After Covid chaos, Europe calls for virus plan amid eased lockdowns

A Russian priest in a biohazard suit and gloves prays with a patient at her apartment in Moscow on Monday. (AP pic)

BRUSSELS: Europe’s most powerful countries urged the European Union to better prepare for the next pandemic after chaotic responses to the coronavirus, as Moscow emerged from lockdown despite Russia still being in the grip of a surging epidemic.

There should be a “common European approach” to challenges like Covid-19 in future, leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote in a letter and policy paper to the European Union’s top official.

Europe has been the hardest-hit continent with nearly 185,000 people killed, and the leaders said a lack of coordination had left nations short of crucial medical equipment when the coronavirus arrived.

Despite Europe’s dire record, most countries on the continent continued to exit their punishing lockdowns on Tuesday – Cyprus welcoming its first tourist flights in almost three months on lockdown and French officials announcing the Eiffel Tower would reopen on June 25.

In eastern Europe, residents of the Russian capital flocked to parks after officials lifted restrictions in place since March 30, even though 8,595 new cases were registered countrywide on Tuesday and the death toll passed 6,000.

“It’s nice out and there are a lot of people on the streets,” said marketing manager Olga Ivanova, walking in central Moscow: “It’s a beautiful day, in every sense of the word.”

Russia has the third-highest number of confirmed infections in the world after the US and Brazil, but officials say this is due to a huge testing campaign and point to a relatively low mortality rate.

However, critics say the death rate is being underreported and accuse officials of rushing to lift restrictions for political reasons.

Life-saving lockdowns

The World Health Organization has warned that complacency is the biggest threat in countries where the pandemic seems to have abated.

The WHO said a record number of new coronavirus cases were recorded globally on Monday.

Underlining the warning, deaths and infections continue to climb sharply in India even as the government lifted some curbs after a 10-week lockdown.

Authorities in the capital, Delhi, warned on Tuesday that cases in the city could shoot up almost 20 times to more than 500,000 in the coming weeks.

Worldwide, Covid-19 deaths have passed 407,000, with more than seven million infections.

The disease emerged in China late last year before sweeping the globe, subjecting billions to some form of lockdown that paralysed economies.

Those restrictions prevented 3.1 million deaths in 11 European countries alone, according to an Imperial College London study published on Monday.

Surging crisis in Peru

The chief prosecutor for Paris said on Tuesday he had opened a probe into the French state’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, with possible charges including “involuntary homicide” and “endangering life”.

But neither Macron nor any government ministers are targeted by the investigation.

In further signs of the new normality in Europe, officials in Spain said mask wearing in public would be compulsory until an effective treatment or vaccine can be found.

Britain, which on Tuesday announced its death toll had passed 50,000, has imposed a two-week quarantine for anyone coming into the country, British nationals included.

As Europe nations forge a path out of lockdowns, Latin America continued to deal with an escalating crisis – particularly in Brazil, Mexico and Peru.

On Tuesday, Peru announced it had passed 200,000 cases of the virus – adding more than 4,000 cases in a single day.

Brazil has the world’s third-highest death toll at more than 36,000, but President Jair Bolsonaro continues to play down the impact of the virus and has urged regional officials to lift lockdown measures.

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