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Sports

German giants return to football as virus marches on

With a worldwide coronavirus death toll of nearly 312,000 and the global economy reeling from the damage caused by
17 May, 2020
  • With a worldwide coronavirus death toll of nearly 312,000 and the global economy reeling from the damage caused by lockdowns, the reopenings in some of the hardest-hit countries such as Italy provided much-needed relief.
  • There have been positive signs in a slowly reopening Europe, with Spain reporting its number of daily deaths dropped to 87 on Sunday -- the first time the number has fallen below 100 in two months.
  • But rising infection and fatality numbers in other parts of the world offered grim reminders of the threat COVID-19 poses.

BERLIN: German football champions Bayern Munich kicked off their first match in more than two months on Sunday as coronavirus restrictions ease in parts of Europe, but the devastating pandemic remains on the march elsewhere.

With a worldwide coronavirus death toll of nearly 312,000 and the global economy reeling from the damage caused by lockdowns, the reopenings in some of the hardest-hit countries such as Italy provided much-needed relief.

But the number of COVID-19 fatalities soared past 15,000 in Brazil with 230,000 infections, making it the country with the fourth-highest number of cases.

The virus -- and the response to it -- is progressing at different speeds across world.

While hard-hit Spain marked a milestone drop in its daily death rate on Sunday, India reported its biggest single-day jump in infections, prompting an extension of a nationwide lockdown until the end of the month.

In Germany, where authorities have started to gradually ease restrictions, reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich took on Union Berlin in the capital on Sunday evening, a day after the league resumed games in empty stadiums.

Already attracting a record TV audience, the restart is under intense scrutiny as a test case, with top sports competitions trying to find ways to resume play without increasing the risk of spreading the virus, which has infected 4.6 million people globally.

However after several players celebrated goals by hugging -- two even kissing on the cheek -- Bavarian state minister Markus Soeder called on the Bundesliga to "tighten up" its hygiene protocol.

 

Latin America cases surge

 

There have been positive signs in a slowly reopening Europe, with Spain reporting its number of daily deaths dropped to 87 on Sunday -- the first time the number has fallen below 100 in two months.

But rising infection and fatality numbers in other parts of the world offered grim reminders of the threat COVID-19 poses.

The number of cases in Latin America passed half a million on Sunday after Chile locked down its capital Santiago following a sharp rise in infections.

Despite surging numbers in Brazil, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is keen to end lockdowns, which he claims have unnecessarily damaged the economy.

"Unemployment, hunger and misery will be the future of those who support the tyranny of total isolation," he tweeted.

Russia, which has the world's second highest number of cases, claimed Sunday that steadying case rates showed the growth of the virus had been halted, just a day after reporting its deadliest day.

Health officials in Russia's Caucasus region said a baby born from an infected mother had tested positive for coronavirus, adding it was the second case of this type recorded globally.

Madagascar and Nepal meanwhile reported their first coronavirus-linked deaths, while Qatar began enforcing the world's toughest penalties of up to three years' prison for failing to wear a mask in public.

Whether masks are an effective weapon against the virus has been a significant question during the pandemic. A team of Hong Kong experts said Sunday that research conducted on hamsters found that non-contact transmission of the virus could be reduced by more than 60 percent when masks are used.

 

Europe relaxes

 

The weekend offered welcome respite for people in European countries which relaxed restrictions earlier in the week, with swimmers diving into the waters at newly reopened beaches in France, Greece and Italy, and Britons basking in the sun in parks.

Catholics attended mass in the east of France on Sunday for the first time in two months, but the faithful were inside their cars in a parking lot, with communion given by disinfected, mask-wearing priests.

"Clean hands give the communion, clean hands receive it," said bishop Francois Touvet in Chalons-en-Champagne. "An exceptional measure for an exceptional situation."

Italy, for a long stretch the world's worst-hit country, announced that EU tourists would be allowed to visit from June 3, and a 14-day mandatory quarantine would be scrapped.

It is also preparing to reopen restaurants, cafes and most other commercial activities on Monday, but authorities have warned of the danger of social gatherings.

Out of 50 new cases recorded overnight in the Lazio region, which includes Rome, 18 were from four families who attended a single funeral, the region's top health official said.

With the threat of a second wave of infections and with no vaccine available, authorities in many countries have asked people not to throng public spaces as they are made accessible again.

'Not even pretending to be in charge'

 

In China, where the disease first emerged late last year but has largely been brought under control, the government's senior medical advisor warned of just such a second wave due to a lack of immunity among the population.

"We are facing (a) big challenge, it's not better than the foreign countries I think at the moment," Zhong Nanshan told CNN.

But with people growing weary of confinement and suffering immense economic pain, pressure is growing on governments to ease lockdowns despite the threat.

President Donald Trump has been keen to restart the world's biggest economy despite the US recording a world-worst 88,000 deaths and 1.47 million cases.

Former president Barack Obama took a swipe at the US response to the pandemic, telling graduates at a virtual college commencement ceremony that many leaders today "aren't even pretending to be in charge" -- a remark widely regarded as a rare rebuke of his successor.

"Doing what feels good, what's convenient, what's easy -- that's how little kids think."

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