The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide has surged past four million as some of the hardest-hit countries prepare to phase out drastic restrictions despite lingering fears about a second wave of infections.
With the pandemic exacting an economic toll unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s and pushing millions into unemployment, governments are trying to contain the spread of COVID-19 while scrambling to chart a way out of prolonged lockdowns and relieve pressure on their economies.
But, with the known global death toll exceeding 279,000 and recoveries reaching almost 1.4 million, countries are also eager to avoid second waves of infections that could overwhelm their healthcare systems, with a new cluster of cases in South Korea raising fears about the virus hitting back rapidly.
Still, some European countries have cited signs of progress that they said justified cautious steps towards a sense of normality.
Officials in France on Saturday said the day’s death toll of 80 was the lowest since early April, while nursing home deaths also dropped sharply as the country prepared on Monday to relax weeks-long curbs on public movement.
French health officials have warned “the epidemic remains active and is evolving”, and that physical distancing must be kept up even as restrictions are eased.
In Spain, about half the population will be allowed out on Monday for limited socialisation, and restaurants will be able to offer some outdoor service as the country begins a phased transition set to last through June.
Madrid and Barcelona – two COVID-19 hotspots – have been excluded from the first phase due to fears of a resurgence.
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