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Europe begins planning to lift lockdown as spread of virus slows

Italy reported fewest deaths in more than three weeks, new cases slid in Spain and France saw the smallest increase in infections in a week.

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Madris/Rome/Paris: Italy, Spain and France reported a slowdown in new coronavirus cases, allowing governments in Europe to look for ways to safely ease lockdowns that are strangling the region’s economy.

Italy reported the fewest number of deaths in more than three weeks as declining numbers of intensive care patients pointed to a lessening severity of the country’s outbreak. New cases slid in Spain, confirming a broader decline since the end of March, while France saw the smallest increase in infections in a week.

The slowing of the pandemic’s march in the world’s hardest-hit countries may help authorities give their citizens clarity about when lockdowns will be lifted, and what kind of restrictions will remain in place and for how long. The lockdowns are estimated to cost the global economy about $5 trillion and governments around the world are keen to safely resume economic activity to minimize unemployment and bankruptcies.

Europe is likely to experience a more severe recession than the rest of the world and may not recover before next year, according to European Central Bank Vice President Luis de Guindos.

“In any case, 2021 will not be able to make up for all of the downturn in 2020,” Guindos said in an interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia and published on the ECB’s website.

The pandemic has claimed more than 109,000 lives around the world, with Italy and the U.S. each counting about 20,000 deaths from the pathogen. Russia, which seemed to have avoided a significant outbreak, said the number of its new cases increased overnight by about a third to 2,186.

The U.K. surpassed the threshold of 10,000 deaths Sunday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from hospital after spending three nights in intensive care, where he was given oxygen to help with his breathing. Johnson spent a week in the hospital after contracting Covid-19.

The epicenter of the global pandemic has shifted to the U.S., after the number of deaths there surpassed those in Italy. On Sunday, Italy reported 431 new coronavirus deaths, the lowest count since March 19.

“The worst of the first big wave of the epidemic is exhausting itself,” Massimo Galli, the director of infectious diseases at Milan’s Sacco hospital, said in an interview with Sky TG24 television. “Things are going better because fewer people need an intensive care bed.”

The improvement was the result of the strict measures that have largely shut down public activity in Italy for more than a month, Galli said.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has extended the country’s lockdown until May 3, is seeking a tentative restart to commercial and public life after that.

In Spain, 619 people died from coronavirus in the past 24 hours, while the number of new infections dipped to 4,167.

Also read: Most New York city coronavirus cases came from Europe, genome researchers say

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Sunday that the efforts by tens of millions of Spaniards to stay home during the past four weeks was helping to stall the spread of the virus.

Some employees in Spain’s construction and heavy industries are preparing to go back to work on Monday as tougher restrictions that were in place for the last two weeks or so are lifted. Sanchez said the government would remain vigilant “to avoid a relapse – and put at risk all that we have accomplished together” by adhering to the confinement orders.

“That’s why the lifting of the lockdown, which will begin no sooner than within two weeks, will be staggered and very cautious,” Sanchez said during televised remarks Sunday in Madrid.

In France, the third-hardest hit country in Europe behind Italy and Spain, new cases fell to the lowest in a week on Sunday, and the number of intensive-care patients dropped for a fourth day.

France’s confinement measures are “producing their first results,” the health ministry said. “We’re observing the beginning of a very high leveling off, but we must remain vigilant because hospitals and ICUs are taking care of a very large number of patients.”

French President Emmanuel Macron is due to address the nation on Monday and could announce an extension of France’s confinement measures until at least mid-May, Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Meanwhile, Russia saw its cases rise to 15,770. Twenty-four people died, increasing Russia’s death toll to 130. In response, officials in Moscow, a city of 12.7 million residents, have pledged to tighten the lockdown in Russia’s capital city. Muscovites will now be required to receive permission to travel after voluntary restrictions failed to keep people off the streets. –Bloomberg 

Also read: How to lift the coronavirus lockdown? Learn from Austria and Denmark


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