Paris cafes reopen as virus restrictions ease

Parisians will return to their beloved cafe terraces and museums Wednesday after a six-month Covid-forced hiatus, a glimmer of normal life returning even as hard-hit India grapples with thousands more virus deaths.

A man cleans the shop window of a cafe named "Le Grand Corona" in Paris on May 18, 2021, on the eve of a hugely anticipated reopening of restaurant terraces, part of an easing of the nationwide lockdown. – Groups of up to six will be able to eat together as restaurant terraces open at 50-percent capacity, joining museums, theatres and cinemas, while the curfew will be pushed back from 7 to 9:00 pm. Ludovic Marin / AFP

As health workers administered the world's 1.5 billionth Covid vaccine dose, Europeans and Americans continued to climb out from under long months of restrictions.

In recent days Britons have hugged their loved ones and streamed into pubs, gyms and other indoor venues. Italy has relaxed curfews, Dutch music fans have readied for the Eurovision Song Contest and Portugal has welcomed returning tourists.

"It's nice to get away and be back here," said Barry Thompson, a 63-year-old retired policeman from Manchester who landed in the sun-kissed southern town of Faro with his wife and son.

In New York — an early virus epicentre — rules requiring masks and social distancing are set to ease, although some residents remain cautious about a disease that has upended life in almost every corner of the globe.

Manhattan restaurant manager Juan Rosas said he plans to still require masks, even for vaccinated patrons: "I think it is too early. I think they rushed the decision," he said.

In Paris, the terraces and rooftop gardens that define the city for many visitors have been booked out as outdoor dining returns across the country, with a few lingering restrictions.

"Like a diesel engine, we'll be warming up slowly," bistro owner Stephanie Mathey told AFP.

The City of Light's museums, cinemas and theatres are also reopening ahead of a full-scale unlocking of the economy on June 30.

"We are glad to be able to welcome you again," staff of the Louvre, the world's most visited museum, wrote on its website, where demand for tickets to a Renaissance sculpture show was brisk.

The slow rebirth of Europe's communal life is being fuelled by now quickening vaccination programmes, after more than a year of battling a pandemic that caused at least 3.4 million deaths worldwide.

According to an AFP tally, more than 1,500,017,337 vaccine doses have now been administered in 210 countries and territories.

Nearly three fifths of the total have been given in three countries: China (421.9 million), the United States (274.4 million) and India (184.4 million).

In Israel, nearly six in 10 residents have been completely vaccinated, while 32 percent of Europeans have received a dose. Only eleven countries have yet to roll out vaccines.

The Serum Institute of India — the world's largest vaccine maker — said on Tuesday it hopes to resume exports by the end of the year, reopening a vital supply line to many poorer countries.

India's fragile healthcare system is struggling with a coronavirus surge that has killed a record 4,329 people in 24 hours.

The country was battling dual crises Wednesday, as at least 33 people were killed and more than 90 missing after a monster cyclone slammed into the west coast.

Hundreds of thousands of people were left without power after the storm hit Gujarat on Monday evening and 200,000 people in danger zones were evacuated from their homes.

In the city of Mumbai, authorities were forced to shift about 600 Covid-19 patients from field hospitals "to safer locations" and vaccinations we briefly suspended.

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