Italy lockdown ease embrace granddaughter
Domenico di Massa and Mariantonia Gangemi embrace their granddaughter Cecilia for the first time in two months after Italy allowed families to see each other again as the country begins a staged end to a nationwide lockdown due to a spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rome, Italy, May 4, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: What does it feel like to come out of the house and enjoy the fresh air after nine weeks under lockdown?

“I never imagined that such a small thing could bring so much pleasure.” Nebojsa Marovic, a 42-year-old musician in Belgrade, said. “I now realise that it is these little things we too often take for granted that really make life so precious,” AFP quoted the musician as saying.

Like Marovic, thousands of people in Europe took a step out of their homes on Monday as some of Europe’s biggest countries decided it was time to try to go back to the old way of life. Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Greece and Belgium eased restrictions partially on Monday in an attempt to get the economy back on its feet.

“It appears that the initial wave of transmissions has passed its peak,” Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, told the European Parliament.

Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Tunisia and Lebanon were also among countries easing some restrictions, variously reopening factories, construction sites, parks, hairdressers and libraries, agencies reported. In the United States, around half of states partially reopened their economies over the weekend.

Turin Italy face mask police
A police officer wearing a protective face mask takes a photo at Porta Palazzo market in Turin after it reopened with social distancing rules as Italy begins a staged end to a nationwide lockdown, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Turin, Italy, May 4, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Off the coronavirus hook

While millions around the world stay indoors or grapple with the consequences of COVID-19, 11 independent countries are still free of the global pandemic. These are: North Korea, Turkmenistan, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, and Tonga.

Many of these are far-off, tiny island nations in the middle of oceans. There are at least 10 more places that are free of COVID-19, but they are dependent territories of countries such as Britain, the US, France and Australia.

Understanding the puzzle

So why has the coronavirus hit some countries with a sledgehammer, but spared others? So far it seems like a puzzle to scientists. Metropolises like New York, Paris and London have been devastated, but overcrowded cities like Bangkok, Baghdad, New Delhi and Lagos have largely been spared.

Doctors in Saudi Arabia and Brazil are studying genetics to see if they can arrive at an answer. Teams in multiple countries are studying if common hypertension medications might worsen the disease’s severity and whether a particular tuberculosis vaccine might do the opposite. Some have suggested that countries with hot climates and young populations can escape unscathed, but Peru, Indonesia and Brazil have proved them wrong.

Draconian social distancing and early lockdown measures have clearly been effective, but Myanmar and Cambodia did neither and have reported few cases.

Doctors say there is not enough data to know for sure and that time may be the great equalizer. Most experts agree that there may be no single reason for some countries to be hit and others missed. The answer is likely to be some combination of the above factors as well as one other mentioned by researchers: sheer luck.

The virus-in-the-lab debate

The US and China continued to spar on Monday about the origin of the virus and whether China deliberately concealed the extent of the outbreak.

On Monday, China's official Global Times newspaper said Pompeo was making "groundless accusations" against Beijing by suggesting the coronavirus was released from a Chinese laboratory.

Meanwhile, a Department of Homeland Security analysis states that, while downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, China increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies in a bid to stock up on medical supplies needed to respond to it.

President Donald Trump predicted Sunday night that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the country may reach as high as 100,000 in the United States, far worse than he had forecast just weeks ago, even as he pressed states to reopen the shuttered economy.

No new cases in New Zealand

In New Zealand, there were no new cases of the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 16.

Last Tuesday New Zealand ended a strict lockdown which shut offices, schools, malls, restaurants, playgrounds and all other public areas for over a month.

Australia reported 26 new cases of the coronavirus, including a seven-year-old boy, across three states on Monday in the biggest daily jump in two weeks.

- with inputs from agencies