From Wall Street to Bethlehem, iconic sites reopen from virus

AFP / Johannes EISELE Medical workers arrive before the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange

Iconic world sites from the New York Stock Exchange to the Church of the Nativity reopened their doors Tuesday from the coronavirus pandemic, but new alarm bells rang in Latin America over a spike of infections.

In a symbolic return of a high altar of capitalism, the New York Stock Exchange — which had gone exclusively virtual for two months — allowed a limited number of traders to return to the trading floor, wearing masks to reduce the risk of infection.

The reopening boosted the mood as the benchmark Dow Jones index surged more than 2.2 percent, casting aside grim predictions that the world could be entering a new Great Depression after millions of job losses.

Visiting Wall Street, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for swift work on long-mulled mega-infrastructure projects such as subway extensions in the hard-hit metropolis.

“Let’s do something creative, let’s do it fast. Let’s put Americans back to work,” Cuomo told reporters.

AFP / Ahmad GHARABLI Crowds were eager to enter as the Church of the Nativity reopened n Bethlehem

There were also signs of hope at some of the world’s best-known destinations, including the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built on the spot where Christians believe their savior Jesus was born.

The church’s opening “gives hope to the world that this pandemic will end,” said Rula Maaya, the Palestinian tourism minister.

The illness has killed more than 346,000 people worldwide and forced most countries to mothball their tourism industries, a crucial source of revenue.

The US toll Tuesday night stood at 98,875, and for the third day in a row, the number of new deaths came in at under 700, the Johns Hopkins University tracker said.

The US is the country hardest-hit in both deaths and cases of infection and is approaching the horrific milestone of 100,000 lives lost to the virus.

– ‘Sense of emptiness’ –

AFP / Tiziana FABI People wearing face masks visit the archeological site of Pompeii as Italy eases its lockdown

In Italy, the global epicenter of infections after the virus spread to Europe from China, the site of a previous natural disaster also reopened to visitors — the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii, destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD.

But the site, which attracted four million visitors last year, was largely deserted as foreign visitors are still banned from travel to Italy until next month.

“It’s only us guides, and journalists,” sighed 48-year-old Valentina Raffone, noting a “sense of emptiness, of sadness,” as if after a disaster on the scale of the city’s end.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio said he was working with EU colleagues to agree on June 15 as a coordinated day for member states to reopen their borders.

“We should save what we can save of the summer, to aid our entrepreneurs,” he said.

AFP / Pascal GUYOT Many beaches in France opened after weeks of lockdown

The Vatican too has relaxed its lockdown, announcing that Pope Francis will address the faithful once more from his window overlooking Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday.

And Russia said it had passed its peak of infections, promising to hold postponed World War II victory celebrations next month.

“The risks for all participants should be minimized, or even better, eliminated,” President Vladimir Putin said.

His announcement came as Russia recorded its highest daily coronavirus death toll of 174, with a caseload of 362,342, the third-highest number of infections in the world after the United States and Brazil.

– Latin America epicenter –

There was no mistaking that the coronavirus was taking a growing toll in South America.

AFP / TARSO SARRAF Health personnel carry coronavirus-infected Brazilian Eladio Lopes, 79, on a stretcher to be transferred on an ambulance boat from the community of Portel to a hospital in Breves, on Marajo island in Para state

With about 730,000 cases — out of 5.5 million globally — Latin America has outpaced Europe and the United States in the number of daily infections.

“In South America, we are particularly concerned that the number of new cases reported last week in Brazil was the highest for a seven-day period, since the outbreak began,” said Carissa Etienne, director of the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization.

“Both Peru and Chile are also reporting a high incidence, a sign that transmission is still accelerating in these countries,” she said during a weekly briefing.

Latin America’s largest airline LATAM, which has more than 42,000 employees, became the latest carrier to file for bankruptcy as COVID-19 devastates aviation.

AFP / FABIO MOTTA Federal police officers bring seized evidence into the Federal Police Headquarters in Rio de Janeiro after a raid on the governor of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel

Virus countermeasures have been especially politicized in Brazil, whose right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has downplayed the illness and lashed out at state governors who have asked people to stay at home.

Police on Tuesday raided the official residence of one of Bolsonaro’s leading critics over the coronavirus response, Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel, alleging that he embezzled public funds for the virus.

Witzel called the raid “political persecution” and warned: “What happened to me is going to happen to other governors who are considered enemies.”

– Political controversies –

Controversies surrounding the coronavirus have intensified around the world. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in crisis mode after his top aide, Dominic Cummings, flouted the government’s lockdown measures by taking a cross-country trip.

Douglas Ross, a minister for Scotland, resigned in protest, saying of families who could not mourn loved ones during the lockdown: “I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior advisor to the government was right.”

AFP / VALERIE MACON A person wearing a mask walks by a Lacoste store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills where a sign says the shop will remain closed

US President Donald Trump, an ally of both Johnson and Bolsonaro, has weathered a torrent of criticism for playing golf as the death toll in his country neared 100,000 on the weekend, and for not wearing a mask in public.

Trump responded by retweeting criticism of his presumptive election rival, Joe Biden, for following health guidelines by wearing a mask during Memorial Day commemorations.

With barely five months before elections, Trump is eager to show a return to normal in the United States and tweeted Tuesday that the surge on Wall Street indicates “the Transition to Greatness has started.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is set on Wednesday to unveil her own trillion-euro proposal to revive the economy of the bloc, whose leaders are likely to argue over its details.

AFP / John SAEKI COVID-19 reproduction rate estimates

With the search for a vaccine potentially still in its infancy, the World Health Organization was left to ponder a very different development on Tuesday.

Two Dutch workers seem to have caught the disease from minks, which “would be the first known cases of animal-to-human transmission,” the UN health agency said.

The agency said pet owners should take precautions but there was “no reason or justification to take measures against companion animals.”


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