Parthenon temple   Acropolis Greece
Visitors walk past the Parthenon temple as the Acropolis archaeological site opens to visitors, following the easing of measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19, in Athens on Monday. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Landmarks in Europe, including Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome and the Acropolis in Athens welcomed visitors again on Monday as many of Europe’s worst hit countries began gingerly returning to normal after a lockdown imposed to fight the coronavirus.

Italy, once the hardest-hit country in the world, saw the first openings of churches, shops and restaurants after more than two months of lockdown, although the public reacted cautiously.

"There's no-one here. Closed or open it's the same thing," lamented Raimondo Ricci, owner of the tourist favourite Sant' Eustachio Il Caffe near Rome's Piazza Navona, AFP reported.

In Venice, where gondolas returned to the waters again, but with the gondoliers wearing gloves and masks, locals heaved a sigh of relief.

The Montenapoleone district of luxury boutiques in Milan reopened Monday, but no shoppers were in sight.

The shopping district is home to such Milan fashion mainstays as Armani, Versace, Ferragamo, Fendi and Bottega Veneta, but most sales are to foreigners, who are still not able to travel to Italy.

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pope John Paul II, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican
Pope Francis celebrates a Mass for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pope John Paul II, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican Monday, May 18, 2020. The Pope held the morning mass in the chapel where the grave of John Paul II is located. Image Credit: AP

Portugal's prime minister took his morning coffee at his local Lisbon cafe and had lunch at a restaurant with the speaker of parliament, as officials encouraged people to emerge from a lockdown.

Foreign ministers from more than 10 European nations were set to hold talks on the future of this year’s summer tourist trade.

More than 4.7 million people have tested positive and 315,270 killed by the disease since it emerged in Wuhan late last year, according to an AFP tally.

South America hit hard

UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned that the eye of the storm is turning to the southern hemisphere, where its impact might be "even more devastating".

The latest data has focused fears concerning South America and Africa.

Deaths in Brazil have risen sharply in recent days, and with more than 241,000 infections reached over the weekend, South America's largest country now has the fourth-highest caseload in the world.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro holds a child in a military costume as they both wave during a rally in Brasilia on May 17, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Image Credit: AFP

Latin America and the Caribbean have recorded more than half a million infections, almost half of them in Brazil, and there is growing alarm about the impact of the virus on the least privileged in the region, AFP reported.

Ecuador reported the first COVID-19 case in one of its indigenous Amazon tribes and Nicaraguan hospital staff have said the country's health system is overwhelmed with patients suffering from respiratory illnesses.

Grim data in Africa

There was also grim data in Africa, where the number of infections rose rapidly.

South Africa on Sunday reported 1,160 new coronavirus infections, the highest daily number since the first case was recorded in March, taking the total to 15,515 - the highest on the continent.

Scotland ‘route map’ out of lockdown soon

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that Scotland could begin easing its lockdown measures by the end of the month, AP reported.

Sturgeon said Monday that if progress is made in reducing the spread of the coronavirus, Scots may be allowed to meet people in other households, and some sporting events may be permitted. She added a “route map” to paths out of lockdown will be published Thursday.

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WHO to begin evaluation of response to coronavirus

The head of the World Health Organization has said that he will begin an independent evaluation of the UN health agency's response to the coronavirus pandemic “at the earliest appropriate moment.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the pledge Monday after an independent oversight advisory body published its first interim report about the UN health agency's response to COVID-19 from January to April.

The 11-page report raised questions such as whether WHO's warning system for alerting the world to outbreaks is adequate, and suggested member states might need to “reassess” WHO's role in providing travel advice to countries.

Denmark widens scope of tests

The Danish health minister said Monday that adults in Denmark over the age of 18 can now be tested for the coronavirus.

"It is imperative that there are no hidden pockets of infection that can cause the infection to rise again. Every single chain of infection is one too many and can potentially turn into several," Magnus Heunicke said.

“So, if one has the slightest suspicion that you have been infected with COVID-19, then one should be able to be tested,” he added.

People can book a time online and tests will be carried out in makeshift centers that have been erected across the country near hospitals, or in mobile unit for people living in remote areas, AP reported.

UK adds new symptom to COVID-19 list

British health officials are adding a loss or change of taste or smell to the list of symptoms of COVID-19.

The decision announced Monday came amid pressure from experts that cases were being missed under a more narrow symptom list, which includes fever and persistent cough.

In a statement, UK health officials say they had been “closely monitoring the emerging data and evidence on COVID-19 and after thorough consideration, we are now confident enough to recommend this new measure.”

The health officials say that people should self-isolate if they develop anosmia - the loss or a change in a normal sense of smell. The sense of taste can also be affected, as they are closely linked.

- with inputs from agencies