Staff members test an infrared thermometer before the shop opens in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 2, 2020. (Xinhua/Chen Cheng)
-- Western Europe has seen a decrease in daily infections in the last four weeks
-- WHO Europe is concerned over a worsening situation in the Eastern Europe
-- The African continent is on the spot as COVID-19 cases surpass 50,000
BEIJING, May 8 (Xinhua) --Some European countries are preparing to gradually ease lockdown measures placed to contain the spread of COVID-19 as positive signs have been seen, while the World Health Organization (WHO) has forecast more cases and deaths in Africa if mitigation measures fail.
CAUTIOUS EASING IN EUROPE
Western Europe has seen a decrease in daily infections in the last four weeks, Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said Thursday. "Slowly but surely, we are seeing positive signs."
Kluge also confirmed that 32 of 43 countries across the European region, which had implemented partial or full domestic movement restrictions, were moving to carefully ease some of the measures.
France would start to ease restrictions from May 11 through "a very gradual process," which would stretch over several weeks at least to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Thursday, adding that the exit would be differentiated among regions.
Next week, about 1 million children and 130,000 teachers will return to school. Some 400,000 companies will resume business. Libraries and small museums may reopen while access to beaches could be allowed at the request of mayors.
Under the new rules, France maintains restrictions on public gatherings of over 10 people and keeps borders closed until further notice. Mask-wearing will be mandatory on public transport.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Thursday announced a plan for the second phase of re-opening in the country.
According to the plan, restaurants, retail shops and malls are allowed to reopen from May 11. Some schools, libraries and religious communities will gradually reopen from May 18.
Staff of Salford Royal hospital pose for a photo before the weekly "Clap for Our Carers" in Manchester, Britain on May 7, 2020. (Photo by Jon Super/Xinhua)
In Britain, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Thursday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce a roadmap to ease the country's lockdown measures.
Changes in lockdown measures will be "modest, small, incremental and very carefully monitored," Raab said, stressing the need to maintain social distancing in the coming weeks.
Greece is also gradually returning to normalcy. After the national lockdown was eased earlier this week, more shops, restaurants, open-air cinemas and museums are scheduled to open in May and June, Greek Culture and Sports Minister Lina Mendoni said Thursday.
In Spain, nearly all 17 autonomous regions have asked the government to allow them to advance on May 11 to the second phase of the country's four-stage plan to ease coronavirus restrictions.
The second phase will see bars allowed to open their terraces at 50 percent capacity, while social gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed and small shops permitted to open at 30 percent of capacity.
People do exercises at the Diagonal Avenue in Barcelona, Spain, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Joan Gosa/Xinhua)
WHO Europe said that the European region, with a total of 1.6 million cases and almost 150,000 deaths, accounts for 45 percent of cases and 60 percent of fatalities worldwide.
The agency is also concerned over a worsening situation in the eastern part of the region as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russian, Ukraine, and Tajikistan have seen increases in new cases over the past week.
CONTINUED SURGE IN AFRICA
The African continent is on the spot as COVID-19 cases surpass 50,000. According to the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, caseload across Africa has reached 51,698 as of Thursday morning.
The WHO on Thursday said that between 83,000 to 190,000 people in Africa could die of COVID-19 while an additional 29 million to 44 million are likely to contract the disease if containment measures fail to work.
A staff member plays with an elephant at the Johannesburg Zoo in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 1, 2020. (Photo by Shiraaz Mohamed/Xinhua)
"While COVID-19 likely won't spread exponentially in Africa as it has done elsewhere in the world, it likely will smolder transmission hotspots," said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.
Moeti said that robust mitigation measures are key to averting widespread transmission of the disease that could overwhelm already fragile health systems in Africa.
Since the first case was reported on Feb. 14 in Egypt, the disease has so far affected 53 states except for Lesotho, the WHO African regional office noted in its latest update.
From Nigeria in the west to South Africa and Kenya in the east, COVID-19 cases are accelerating at an alarming rate as most countries engage in mass testing.
The United Nations on Thursday launched an updated COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan that requires 6.69 billion U.S. dollars to help fragile countries cope with the pandemic.
Two children wearing face masks walk on a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, May 4, 2020. (Photo by Shaun Jusa/Xinhua)
The updated plan added nine countries, including some in Africa, such as Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe.
Apart from the direct health impact, the global recession and the domestic measures taken to contain the virus will take a heavy toll on the poorest countries, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said.
The international community must be prepared for a rise in conflict, hunger, poverty and disease as economies contract and health systems are strained, said Lowcock. ■