The European Union agreed Tuesday to reopen its borders to 15 countries excluding the virus-stricken US, as the pandemic accelerated globally with more than 505,000 deaths worldwide.
Europe’s piecemeal reopening comes as countries struggle to revive economic activity while fending off new spikes of Covid-19, with hotspots still surging in Latin America and in the United States.
After days of negotiations, EU members finalised the list of countries whose health situation was deemed safe enough to allow residents to enter the bloc starting on July 1 — but the US was notably excluded, along with Russia and Turkey.
Those on the list are Algeria, Australia, Canada, Japan, Georgia, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.
Travellers from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, will be allowed on the condition that Beijing reciprocates and opens the door to EU residents.
The border relaxation, to be reviewed in two weeks and left to member states to implement, is a bid to help rescue the continent’s battered tourism sector, which has been choked by a ban on non-essential travel in place since mid-March.
But with some 10.3 million known infections worldwide, the pandemic is “not even close to being over”, the World Health Organization has warned.
“Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday.
Even in Europe, where infections have stabilised in many countries, the lifting of lockdown measures is still touch-and-go as governments try to reboot economies facing historic recessions.
The UK, home to Europe’s deadliest outbreak, has already seen its sharpest quarterly contraction in 40 years, shrinking 2.2% from January-March.
The worst is yet to come, with economists predicting a double-digit slump in output during the second quarter, tipping Britain into a technical recession.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed Tuesday to deliver a “infrastructure revolution” to help the country build its way out of the economic downturn.
In the meantime, his government is employing a “whack-a-mole” strategy of targeted lockdowns.
While the government plans to reopen pubs, restaurants and hairdressers on July 4, schools and non-essential shops in Leicester, central England, have been ordered to close after a localised outbreak.
Germany, which has been praised for its handling of Covid-19, also saw its North Rhine-Westphalia state extend a lockdown on a district hit hard by a slaughterhouse outbreak.
And in Australia, a new spike in cases in parts of Melbourne spurred new stay-at-home measures affecting some 300,000 people.
Long wait for tests
Covid-19 is still tearing across the US, particularly in southern and western states where leaders pushed for early reopenings.
The country leads the world with more than 126,000 recorded deaths and 2.5 million cases.
In Houston, Texans waited for hours in their cars to get tested in a state that has seen infection rates double since early June.
Medical student Fernando Galvez, 24, joined the long line at 4 am.
After seven hours of waiting, he hoped to finally get a test after multiple failed attempts in recent days, despite his symptoms of a sore throat and chest tightness.
The first day he tried to get a test, he arrived at 6.30am. “There was no chance,” he said. “So here I am again.”
Even in New York, deemed to be on the road to recovery, the iconic Broadway theatre district announced it would remain closed until the end of the year.
And the world-famous Cirque du Soleil troupe announced it was filing for bankruptcy protection and cutting thousands of jobs in a bid to survive the pandemic.
US President Donald Trump’s health secretary has warned the “window is closing” for the US to regain control.
But the president has largely turned away from the crisis, holding indoor rallies with big, largely maskless crowds against the advice of his experts and refusing to cover his own face in public.
The US economy is expected to log its biggest decline on record in the April-June quarter, warned US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, adding that recovery would depend on government efforts to contain the outbreak.
Novel swine flu
Brazil, home to the world’s second deadliest outbreak, was reeling from its worst week yet in the crisis, after registering a record number of 259,105 cases in the seven days to Sunday.
Peru is also suffering, with more than 9,000 fatalities.
And in Iraq, overwhelmed doctors are struggling with mask shortages, unpaid salaries and dilapidated hospitals as daily infections rise.
“We’re collapsing,” said Mohammed, a doctor at a Covid-19 ward in Baghdad.
Iran announced another 150 deaths Tuesday as officials said the virus was still peaking in parts of the country.
Around the world, sporting events continued to fall off the calendar, including the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and the remainder of this year’s World Rugby Sevens Series.
Researchers in China, meanwhile, have discovered a novel swine flu capable of triggering another pandemic.
Named G4, it is genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009, according to scientists at Chinese universities and China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a fresh warning to the world, the authors said it possesses “all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans”.
AFP / BANGKOK POST