France, Belgium ease virus curbs as US decision boosts travel hopes

France and Belgium further relaxed their Covid-19 restrictions Wednesday, allowing restaurants and cafes to serve indoors, while the United States eased travel warnings for dozens of countries as vaccinations boost hopes of a return to normal life.

With more than 3.7 million lives lost globally, many nations are still struggling to contain their coronavirus outbreaks. But the rapid vaccine rollout in wealthier parts of the world, including Europe, is allowing the return of some activities considered unthinkable just a few months ago.

“It’s a pleasure to have a coffee inside. Normal life is gradually resuming,” said transport employee Hammou Mraoui, enjoying a coffee in a bar in the Meudon suburb of Paris.

The new measures also saw gyms open their doors to the relief of eager fitness buffs like Stephanie Moscoso.

If all goes to plan, French authorities will drop the overnight curfew entirely on June 30.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced longer operating hours for businesses and easing of restrictions on sports venues and cinemas.

The easing of lockdown measures across Europe comes after the bloc’s once-struggling vaccination campaign continues to gather pace.

That progress is allowing Europe’s governments to strike a better balance between public health and reviving sectors such as tourism that were devastated by pandemic travel restrictions.

The impact of that phase was visible in the world’s most liveable cities list released Wednesday, which saw cities in Australia, Japan and New Zealand — all with swift coronavirus responses — leaping ahead of those in Europe.

It cited the stress on health infrastructure for the poor showing of European cities, which also had a knock-on effect on culture and overall liveability because of restrictions on movement.

Five million Melbourne residents are set to emerge from one such two-week lockdown on Thursday, imposed in response to the detection of a cluster.

The United States on Tuesday eased its warnings against travel to dozens of countries, including Olympics host Japan and much of Europe, with the State Department asking Americans to reconsider travel but ending blanket advice to not go at all.

The current figure stands at 63.7 percent, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bruce Springsteen announced Monday that his hit Broadway show will return on June 26, in front of vaccinated audiences.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for over a year,” said frontman Dave Grohl.



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