Parts of Europe moved cautiously to reopen their streets and economies on Thursday but the Covid-19 pandemic was far from beaten and the World Health Organisation warned the continent was still in the “eye of the storm”.
“We remain in the eye of the storm,” the WHO ‘s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said in an online news conference from Copenhagen. Positive signs in Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland were overshadowed by sustained or increased levels of infections in other countries, such as Britain, Turkey, Ukraine and Russia, he said. “It is imperative that we do not let down our guard”
More than 2.1 million people have been infected with the virus around the world and over 1,40,000, including 90,000 in Europe, have died.
The UK announced that it would prolong its lockdown by three weeks, amid signs that the country is nearing the peak of its coronavirus outbreak. “The worst thing we can do right now is to ease up,” Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said.
Hard-hit parts of Europe have seen a slowdown in infections and deaths in recent days, with Spain recording 551 new deaths on Thursday, almost half of the daily toll at its peak. The country, however, recorded another sharp increase of over 5,183 new infections, which authorities said was because of broader testing.
After weeks on strict lockdowns, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Finland have begun to ease curbs, allowing some businesses to reopen. Germany on Wednesday also announced initial steps to reopen some shops and gradually restart schools. UN chief Antonio Guterres, however, said only a “safe and effective vaccine” can return the world to normal, hoping that could be available by year-end.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offered $150 million and called for global cooperation to ready vaccines, but its chief executive laid bare the challenge facing humanity. “There are seven billion people on the planet,” said Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman. “We are going to need to vaccinate nearly every one. There is no manufacturing capacity to do that.”
Even with a vaccine, the virus is expected to lay waste to the global economy, with the IMF warning that $9 trillion could be lost in a second Great Depression.
China on Thursday rushed medics and medical supplies by air to two towns close to its border with Russia and built a mobile hospital as imported cases surged following an exodus of Chinese nationals from the neighbouring country. China has reported 46 new cases, including 34 imported ones.