EU lifts more Covid restrictions, but Moscow reports dramatic rise in infections

·3-min read

The European Union on Wednesday agreed to lift coronavirus restrictions for US travellers as Western countries move toward a return to pre-Covid life. But, in a stark reminder that the global pandemic is far from over, Moscow ordered mandatory jabs following a "dramatic" rise in the number of cases.

The United States is among eight countries and territories added to an EU "white list", exempting their nationals from Covid-19 travel bans ahead of the busy summer holiday season crucial to the economies of many European countries.

EU states will still be permitted to require travellers from these areas to undergo Covid-19 testing or accept quarantine once the new list is approved.

Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Lebanon, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong have also been added to the EU white list, officials said.

French situation improving quickly

France meanwhile says masks will no longer be required outdoors from Thursday. The unpopular Covid curfew will be scrapped on 20 June, 10 days earlier than initially planned, thanks to falling infections.

"The health situation of our country is improving faster than we expected," said Prime Minister Jean Castex.

On the economic front, Spain and Portugal became the first EU countries to win Brussels' approval for their recovery plans which require funding from the bloc's multi-billion-euro coronavirus rescue fund.

Covid restrictions have been loosened across the US, with New York City and the state of California lifting nearly all curbs.

"We have hit 70 percent vaccination," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday. "It means that we can now return to life as we know it."

Governor Gavin Newsom told Californians that they could ditch their masks nearly everywhere, except for schools, hospitals and public transport.

In India, where soaring infections in April and May overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums, authorities reopened the famed Taj Mahal monument on Wednesday.

Cases have declined in recent weeks, with several major cities including New Delhi and Mumbai easing restrictions.

Meanwhile, in Moscow . . .

However, in a grim reminder that the global pandemic is far from over after claiming 3.8 million lives, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin warned that the city's "coronavirus situation continues to unfold dramatically".

He ordered compulsory vaccinations for Muscovites working in the service industry as he urged renewed efforts to achieve mass immunity.

Sobyanin, whose city of 12 million is the epicentre of Russia's coronavirus outbreak, said just 1.8 million residents had been inoculated.

This, despite Russia having launched a mass campaign of free jabs last December and having developed and approved four vaccines.

A record day in South Africa

In South Africa, meanwhile, Covid-19 infections jumped by 13,246 on Wednesday -- the highest daily total in five months, the government said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has extended a nighttime curfew and limited alcohol sales in a bid to contain a third wave of infections.

Other countries are moving ahead with big events, but trying to limit risks as much as possible.

Japan, which will next month finally host the delayed 2020 Olympics, said on Wednesday that it planned to set a cap of 10,000 fans at sports events.

The plan, expected to become official later this week, would limit spectators to 50 percent of a venue's capacity or 10,000 people -- whichever is smaller, said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of virus measures.

Saudi Arabia is meanwhile leaning on technology as it prepares for a socially distanced Hajj pilgrimage.

Robots are being used to hand out bottles of sacred water in Mecca, Islam's holiest city, which is set to welcome 60,000 vaccinated pilgrims in July.

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