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Paris cafes reopen as virus restrictions ease, India struggles

PARIS: 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.

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.

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.

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

The French on Wednesday joyfully made their way back to cafes, cinemas and museums as the country loosened restrictions in a return to semi-normality after more than six months of Covid-19 curbs.

Bad weather across much of the country failed to dampen the spirits of customers who beat a path back to their favourite cafes and cultural haunts from the early morning.

With TV cameras rolling, President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Jean Castex enjoyed a first coffee at a cafe close to the presidential palace in Paris, with the head of state hailing “a little moment of freedom regained”.

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.

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.

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