A tentative easing of coronavirus lockdowns has gathered pace around the world, including the reopening of local shops in India that many of the country’s 1.3 billion people rely on.

The US states of Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska also began loosening lockdown orders on their pandemic-wounded businesses, even as the confirmed US death toll from the coronavirus soared past 50,000 and health experts warned that such steps may have come too early.

Elsewhere in Asia, authorities reported no new deaths on Saturday for the 10th straight day in China, where the virus originated.

South Korea reported just 10 fresh cases, the eighth day in a row its daily total came below 20. There were no new deaths for the second straight day.

In Sri Lanka, however, the lockdown was tightened, not eased, confirming a pattern of one-step-forward, one-step-back also seen elsewhere in the pandemic, as authorities juggle public health against the health of shut-down economies.

Sri Lanka had partially lifted a month-long curfew during daytime hours in more than two thirds of the country.

However, it reimposed a 24-hour lockdown countrywide after a surge of 46 new infections on Friday, the highest increase in a day on the Indian Ocean island. The new curfew remains in effect until Monday.

On Saturday, the global death toll climbed toward 200,000, according to a tally compiled by Johns Hopkins University from government figures. The actual death toll is believed to be far higher.

Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday
Francis blowing his nose during the Ash Wednesday Mass opening Lent

Pope Francis appealed to people to pray for funeral home workers, saying: “What they do is so heavy and sad. They really feel the pain of this pandemic.”

In Europe, Belgium sketched out plans for a progressive lockdown relaxation starting on May 4 with the resumption of non-essential treatment in hospitals and the reopening of textile and sewing shops to enable people to have face masks.

Bars and restaurants would be allowed to start reopening on June 8, although Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmes also cautioned that a surge in infections could alter the timeline, and that “nothing is set in stone”.

Children in Spain will get their first fresh air in weeks on Sunday when a total ban on letting them outside is relaxed.

After 44 days indoors, they will be allowed to take one toy or scooter with them but not play together for adult-supervised one-hour excursions no further than one kilometre from home.

Italy announced that free protective masks will be distributed to nursing homes, police, public officials and transport workers, preparing for the return to work of millions of Italians when lockdown restrictions are eased from May 4.

In France, the government is preparing to ease one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns from May 11. The health minister detailed plans on Saturday to scale up testing to help contain any new flare-ups.

Testing shortages are a critical problem elsewhere, too, including in Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation, which is veering closer to becoming a pandemic hotspot.

Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and four other major cities warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse or already overwhelmed.

In Manaus, the biggest city in the Amazon, officials said a cemetery has been forced to dig mass graves because there have been so many deaths. Workers have been burying 100 corpses a day – triple the pre-virus average.

In the US, Republican governors in Georgia and Oklahoma allowed salons, spas and barbershops to reopen, while Alaska opened the way for restaurants to resume dine-in service and retail shops and other businesses to open their doors, all with limitations.

Some Alaskan municipalities chose to maintain stricter rules.

Though limited in scope, and subject to social-distancing restrictions, the reopenings marked a symbolic milestone in the debate raging in the United States and beyond as to how quickly political leaders should lift economically devastating lockdown orders.

During a White House press briefing on Friday, US president Donald Trump spoke optimistically of the economy but also asked people to continue social distancing and use face coverings.

The same day, Mr Trump signed a 484 billion dollar bill to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the pandemic.

Over the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid in America, or about one in six US workers.

Mr Trump also said his widely criticised comments suggesting people can ingest or inject disinfectant to fight Covid-19 were an attempt at sarcasm.

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