Parisians return to cafes; Latin America sees virus surge

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Cemetery workers carry the coffin of Jorge Luis Collahua, during his burial in the section of Nueva Esperanza cemetery reserved for COVID-19 cases, in the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Monday, June 1, 2020. Collahua's family did not want to talk about whether he died of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

WELLINGTON – Parisians returned to the City of Light’s beloved sidewalk cafes as lockdown restrictions eased Tuesday, but health experts expressed deep concerns as several Latin American countries opted to reopen their economies despite a rapid rise in coronavirus cases.

The post-lockdown freedom along Paris’ cobbled streets will be tempered by social distancing rules for the city's once-densely packed cafe tables. Paris City Hall has authorized outside seating areas only, with indoor seating off-limits until June 22. But the tiny tables will have to be spaced at least 1 meter apart, sharply cutting their numbers.

“It’s amazing that we’re finally opening up, but the outside area is just a fraction of the inside space,” said Xavier Denamur, the owner of five popular cafes and bistros. “It’s a start.”

But as Parisians reclaimed the rhythm of city life, health experts warned that virus cases are still rising in Latin America, the world’s latest COVID-19 epicenter.

“Clearly the situation in many South American countries is far from stable. There is a rapid increase in cases and those systems are coming under increasing pressure,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program.

His warning came as some of Brazil’s hardest-hit cities, including the jungle city of Manaus and the sprawling metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, were starting to allow more business activity. Brazil has reported more than 526,000 infections, second only to the 1.8 million cases reported by the U.S.

Bolivia and Venezuela have also started opening up their economies, Ecuador has resumed flights and shoppers have returned to Colombia's malls.

In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered a personal note of caution to his country's gradual roll-back of virus restrictions by opting to drive 1,000 miles instead of flying to promote a key infrastructure project.