Spain eases lockdown as hopes rise of pandemic peak

Madrid (AFP) - Spain reopened parts of its coronavirus-stricken economy on Monday as slowing death tolls in some of the worst-hit countries boosted hopes the outbreak may be peaking and lockdowns could soon be eased.

Watched by a world that wants to temper a brutal pandemic-induced recession, Spain allowed factory and construction staff to go back to work, while police handed out free masks on the metro.

But there were warnings that lifting curbs too soon could unleash a second wave of COVID-19, with China, where the virus emerged late last year, recording its highest number of cases in weeks -- most of them imported.

French President Emmanuel Macron was set to tell the nation that its lockdown would stay in place for several more weeks, while India braced for an extension of restrictions for its 1.3 billion people.

More than half of the planet's population is staying home as part of efforts to stem the spread of the virus, which has now killed at least 114,000 people and infected over 1.8 million, overwhelming healthcare systems and crippling the world economy.

Yet there is cautious optimism the curve may be starting to flatten. Spain's death toll fell again on Monday with 517 fatalities, plus the lowest daily figure of new confirmed infections since March 20.

Britain, France and the US also saw a drop in daily COVID-19 deaths, along with Italy which reported its lowest fatalities in three weeks.

Governments are facing increasing pressure ease lockdown restrictions to keep economies from total collapse while ensuring citizens stay safe.

US President Donald Trump said Monday top oil producers could cut production by 20 million barrels per day after nations reached a landmark deal to prop up prices hammered by the coronavirus crisis.

- 'Amazing' mask handout -

Police in Madrid handed out face masks to commuters at a train station where life appeared to be creeping back to normal, as workers in protective gear wiped down turnstiles.

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