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PARIS, May 19 — The French returned to their beloved cafe terraces today, while the EU said it would open its borders to vaccinated travellers as life crept back to normal in Europe after months of punishing restrictions.
But India was still grappling with its spiralling outbreak, as it once again hit a record daily number of coronavirus deaths and hospitals struggled to keep up with climbing cases.
As health workers administered the world’s 1.5 billionth Covid-19 vaccine dose, there was hope that immunisation campaigns will allow countries to finally emerge from the pandemic.
The EU said Wednesday it would allow fully vaccinated visitors into the bloc and increase the level of new cases that a country can hit before being declared unsafe—a measure that would open up travel into Europe from more places.
It was the latest step toward return to normal in Europe that in recent days has seen Britain open pubs, gyms and other indoor venues, Italy relax curfews and Portugal welcome returning tourists.
France joined the party on Wednesday, allowing outdoor dining at cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as visits to museums, cinemas and theatres after six months of restrictions and ahead of a full reopening of the economy on June 30.
“It feels good. There is a sense of euphoria in the city centre,” said Patricia Marchand, a manager of the Cafe des Feuilles in the northwestern city of Rennes.
In Paris, demand for tickets to a Renaissance sculpture show was brisk at the world’s most visited museum, the Louvre.
Austria also relaxed measures Wednesday, reopening restaurants and bars after six months—but only for those who have tested negative, have received at least one vaccine shot or have recovered from coronavirus.
“It feels strange after so many months,” 46-year-old Christoph Neubauer said over coffee in Vienna with a colleague.
“But I really look forward to tonight, because I have a reservation for a restaurant.”
And in New York, rules requiring masks and social distancing are also set to ease, although some residents remained cautious.
“I think it is too early,” said Manhattan restaurant manager Juan Rosas, who plans to still require masks, even for vaccinated patrons.
“I think they rushed the decision.”
Vaccinations speed up
The slow rebirth of communal life in Europe and the US is being fuelled by now quickening vaccination programmes, after more than a year of battling a pandemic that is known to have claimed nearly 3.4 million deaths worldwide.
According to an AFP tally, more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses have now been administered in 210 countries and territories.
Nearly three-fifths of the total has been given in three countries: China (421.9 million), the United States (274.4 million) and India (184.4 million).
In Israel, nearly six in 10 residents have been completely vaccinated, while 32 percent of Europeans have received a dose.
Only eleven countries have yet to roll out vaccines.
The Serum Institute of India—the world’s largest vaccine maker—said on Tuesday it hopes to resume exports by the end of the year, reopening a vital supply line to many poorer countries.
Devastation in India
In a grim reminder of the persistent devastation of the virus, India’s fragile healthcare system is struggling with a coronavirus surge that has killed 283,248 people, including a record 4,529 in the last 24 hours.
Experts say the true toll is likely much higher.
The latest wave has ravaged India for six weeks, feeding on shortages of hospital beds, oxygen and critical drugs.
The country was battling dual crises Wednesday, as at least 55 people were killed and dozens still missing after a monster cyclone slammed into its west coast.
In the city of Mumbai, authorities were forced to move about 600 Covid-19 patients from field hospitals “to safer locations” and vaccinations were briefly suspended.
The pandemic has also triggered an orphan crisis in the country, with thousands of children having lost one or both parents in the pandemic.
In New Delhi, six-year-old twins Tripti and Pari, whose names have been changed, lost both their parents to the disease.
“I keep telling the girls their parents will come home soon,” said an uncle who is now taking care of them.
“I don’t want to tell them the truth now... they’re too young.”
Elsewhere in Asia, Taiwan Singapore have seen a fresh spike in cases, along with Japan where concerns are mounting over the Olympic Games that are due to open in Tokyo on July 23.
Most Japanese want the world sporting event postponed again or cancelled, but the chief of the International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach said today that most athletes and team members staying at the village will be vaccinated. — AFP
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