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Brazil toll tops 30,000 as Italy reopens borders

After chalking up devastating human losses in Europe, the virus has now taken a firm grip in Latin America, where Brazil surpassed a chilling landmark late Tuesday.

FILE: The latest official COVID-19 death toll of 31,199 is the fourth-highest in the world, after the US, Britain and Italy. Picture: 123rf.

ROI DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Brazil surpassed 30,000 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak as the disease continued to rip through Latin America, while Italy -- at one point the hardest-hit country -- prepared to reopen its borders in time for the European summer.

After chalking up devastating human losses in Europe, the virus has now taken a firm grip in Latin America, where Brazil surpassed a chilling landmark late Tuesday.

The latest official COVID-19 death toll of 31,199 is the fourth-highest in the world, after the US, Britain and Italy.

The figures come as some Brazilian states began to emerge from weeks of economically-stifling quarantine measures despite warnings from the WHO and epidemiologists it is too much, too soon.

"In the current situation, relaxing the measures is adding gasoline to the fire," Rafael Galliez, an infectious diseases expert at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, told AFP.

SURF'S UP AGAIN IN RIO

Yet surfers and swimmers streamed back to the beach in Rio de Janeiro as the city started easing lockdown measures, allowing the reopening of places of worship and water sports.

"I think that here, in the water, there is no risk. It's not like in the stores," said Cesar Calmon as he delighted in the waves off Ipanema beach.

In Europe, most countries have flattened their initial infection curves and are gradually easing out of confinement as they try to curb the economic fallout of the shutdowns.

Italy reopens its borders to travellers from Europe on Wednesday, three months after the country went into lockdown, with hopes for economic revival pinned on reigniting its tourism industry.

But there were fears many foreign tourists will be put off visiting a country where 33,000 people died of the disease.

"Come to Calabria. There's only one risk: that you'll get fat," the southern region's governor Jole Santelli said as the race began to lure big-spenders -- or any spenders -- back to Italy's sandy shores.

SYMBOLIC VICTORY

In a symbolic victory in the French capital, Parisians reclaimed beloved cafe terraces that were allowed to sprawl across pavements to accommodate social distancing measures.

"Coffee on a terrace, that's Paris!" said Martine Depagniat, among those enjoying the new freedom after 10 weeks of closures.

Schools, swimming pools, pubs and tourist sites are steadily reopening across the continent to ease the economic pain, and stock markets rose on European optimism, despite fears of a second wave of infections.

Greece suspended flights to and from Qatar on Tuesday after detecting multiple infections on a flight from Doha to Athens.

The respiratory disease has claimed nearly 400,000 lives and infected more than 6.2 million in its rampage around the globe, upending life for billions since it first emerged in China late last year.

The focus now falls on Latin America, which passed one million cases this week.

Brazil has more than half of that caseload -- 555,383 -- making it the second most affected country after the United States, where experts fear mass demonstrations over the police killing of African American George Floyd could reignite the spread of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization has warned that healthcare systems could soon be overwhelmed with Peru, Chile and Mexico also seeing big daily increases in infections.

Mexico has also started rebooting the economy after more than two months of shutdown, allowing activity in the car, mining and construction industries to resume.

JOURNALISTS DIE

In Venezuela the virus forced political rivals to come together, with the government of Nicolas Maduro striking a deal with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who claims the presidency, to seek resources to address the disease's spread, all parties confirmed on Tuesday.

Meanwhile at least 20 journalists have died from the coronavirus outbreak in Peru, most of them infected while reporting on the pandemic, often with little protection, the country's journalists' union said.

Peru is Latin America's second worst-hit country after Brazil with more than 170,000 cases and 4,600 deaths.

"As of June 1, the number of dead colleagues is 20 in all of the country," said Zuliana Lainez of the National Association of Journalists.

Many of them contracted the disease while reporting from streets, markets and hospitals on the effects of the virus, without proper protective equipment, Lainez said.

"They have gone to hospitals, which are foci of infection, with homemade masks," she said.

Back where it all began in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus first emerged in December, officials touted another success after finding only 300 positive cases after testing nearly 10 million people over the past two weeks.

"These numbers show that Wuhan is now the safest city," said Feng Zijian, deputy director of China's national Center for Disease Control and Prevention.