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COVID-19: Spain eases strict lockdown as US approves virus drug

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Spaniards were allowed out of their homes to exercise and walk freely after 48 days of confinement on Saturday as some European nations began cautiously easing virus lockdowns while others like Russia faced a spike in new infections.

As governments across the globe balance lifting restrictions to restart economies against the risk of new infections, US authorities brought some hope by approving an experimental drug for emergency use on coronavirus patients.

The measure was the latest step in a global push to find viable treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown, hammered the world economy and caused more than 3.3 million confirmed infections.

With signs the pandemic in their hardest-hit nations is slowing, European countries and some parts of the US have begun to lift restrictions and to try to inject life into economies battered by weeks of closure.

In Madrid and Barcelona, Spaniards took to the streets to exercise and walk freely as the government eased seven weeks of strict lockdown in a country.

“After so many weeks in confinement, I badly wanted to go out, run, see the world,” said financial advisor Marcos Abeytua in Madrid’s Chueca district who got up a 7am to enjoy some time outside. “Yesterday, I was like a child on Christmas Eve.”

In the city’s Retiro park, many residents were out to running, sometimes in groups, as a policeman used a loudspeaker to urge them to keep out of deserted avenue and on the pavement.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez however said masks would be obligatory on public transport from Monday.

Spain, Germany, Austria and Scandinavian nations are all slowly easing lockdowns as the virus cases slow though they will keep in place social distancing measures, demand the use of masks or increase testing to try to track infections.

France on Saturday decided it would extend a health emergency, in place since March 24, by two months until July 24, Health Minister Olivier Veran announced after a cabinet meeting.

Italy is preparing to ease restrictions in coming days while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent time in intensive care with the virus, said Britain had past the peak of its outbreak.

Ireland extended its lockdown by two weeks to May 18, with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar saying the nation will reopen “in a slow, phased, staged way” after that.

In Russia, though, authorities reported the largest increase in coronavirus cases with the new infections rising by nearly 10,000 in a single day.

In Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, around 2 percent of the population is infected by COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, officials said.

“The threat is apparently on the rise,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, said on his blog earlier Saturday.

US President Donald Trump on Friday announced that Remdesivir, an antiviral drug initially developed to treat Ebola, was given the green light for use after a major trial found that it boosted recovery in serious COVID-19 patients.

“It’s really a very promising situation,” Trump said on Friday at the White House.

The drug incorporates itself into the virus’s genome, short-circuiting its replication process.

Its approval came as the US leaders struggled with growing pressure from citizens wearying of stay-at-home orders.

Trump is keen for a turnaround as the world’s largest economy reels with tens of millions left jobless.

Texas became the largest US state yet to ease curbs, while anti-lockdown demonstrations were held in several states — including California, where officials had re-closed beaches beginning Friday to avoid a repeat of last weekend when crowds flocked to the shoreline.

In Huntington Beach, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Los Angeles, several thousand people rallied to denounce Governor Gavin Newsom’s beach shutdown order.

“Open California!” chanted protesters near the closed beaches, carrying signs that read “All jobs are essential” or “Freedom is essential”.

AFP

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