Paris cafes reopen as virus restrictions ease

·3-min read

Parisians returned to their beloved cafe terraces and museums Wednesday after a six-month Covid-forced hiatus, a glimmer of normal life resuming but India grappled with a record daily number of coronavirus deaths.

As health workers administered the world's 1.5 billionth Covid-19 vaccine dose, Europeans and Americans continued to climb out from under long months of restrictions.

In recent days, Britons have hugged their loved ones and streamed into pubs, gyms and other indoor venues. Italy has relaxed curfews, Dutch music fans have readied for the Eurovision Song Contest and Portugal has welcomed returning tourists.

"It's nice to get away and be back here," said Barry Thompson, a 63-year-old retired policeman from Manchester who landed in the sun-kissed southern Portuguese town of Faro with his wife and son.

In New York -- an early virus epicentre -- rules requiring masks and social distancing are also set to ease, although some residents remain cautious about a disease that has upended life in almost every corner of the globe.

Manhattan restaurant manager Juan Rosas plans to still require masks, even for vaccinated patrons.

"I think it is too early," he said. "I think they rushed the decision."

In Paris, the terraces and rooftop gardens that define the city for many visitors have been booked out as outdoor dining returns across France, with a few lingering restrictions.

"Like a diesel engine, we'll be warming up slowly," bistro owner Stephanie Mathey told AFP.

The City of Light's museums, cinemas and theatres are also reopening ahead of a full-scale unlocking of the economy on June 30.

"We are glad to be able to welcome you again," staff of the Louvre, the world's most visited museum, wrote on its website, where demand for tickets to a Renaissance sculpture show was brisk.

- Vaccinations speed up -

The slow rebirth of Europe's communal life is being fuelled by now quickening vaccination programmes, after more than a year of battling a pandemic that is known to have claimed nearly 3.4 million deaths worldwide.

According to an AFP tally, more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses have now been administered in 210 countries and territories.

Nearly three-fifths of the total has been given in three countries: China (421.9 million), the United States (274.4 million) and India (184.4 million).

In Israel, nearly six in 10 residents have been completely vaccinated, while 32 percent of Europeans have received a dose.

Only eleven countries have yet to roll out vaccines.

The Serum Institute of India -- the world's largest vaccine maker -- said on Tuesday it hopes to resume exports by the end of the year, reopening a vital supply line to many poorer countries.

- Devastation in India -

India's fragile healthcare system is struggling with a coronavirus surge that has killed 283,248 people, including a record 4,529 in the last 24 hours.

Experts say the true toll is likely much higher.

The latest wave has ravaged India for six weeks, feeding on shortages of hospital beds, oxygen and critical drugs.

The country was battling dual crises Wednesday, as at least 33 people were killed and more than 90 missing after a monster cyclone slammed into its west coast.

Hundreds of thousands of people were left without power after the storm hit Gujarat state on Monday evening and 200,000 people in danger zones were evacuated from their homes.

In the city of Mumbai, authorities were forced to move about 600 Covid-19 patients from field hospitals "to safer locations" and vaccinations were briefly suspended.

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