France and Germany on Monday laid out plans for a 500-billion-euro ($544 billion) European fund backed by joint EU borrowing to fight the economic fallout from the coronavirus, as the continent pushed ahead towards normality with major landmarks reopening after a two month-hiatus.
St Peter’s Basilica and the Acropolis in Athens opened their doors to visitors alongside many European shops, restaurants and churches, as Italy reported that its daily death toll from the virus had fallen below 100 for the first time since early March.
More than 4.7 million people have tested positive and 315,270 have been killed by the disease since it emerged in Wuhan late last year, according to an AFP tally. Recent days have seen soaring infections in Brazil, India and South Africa.
Battling against allegations from the United States and elsewhere that it concealed the scale of the problem, China vowed to back an independent inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus after it is “brought under control”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping insisted during an address to the World Health Assembly — the WHO’s decision-making body — that Beijing had been “transparent” throughout the crisis. Beijing also offered to share a vaccine once one became available.
But China’s main critic US sharpened the tone at the same talks, accusing the WHO of being too close to Beijing.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited the continued exclusion of Taiwan from the UN health agency as a sop to Beijing, as he charged that China “continues to withhold vital information about the virus and its origins”.
Amid the blame game, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned the virus’ impact on the southern hemisphere could be “even more devastating” than in the global north.
– South America, Africa hit hard –
In Asia, India extended its lockdown covering 1.3 billion people to the end of May as it reported its biggest single-day jump in infections on Sunday.
But natural catastrophe threatened to derail the plans to keep transmission at bay — with Cyclone Amphan barrelling towards India and Bangladesh at speeds of 240 kilometres (145 miles) per hour, two million people face evacuation.