Restaurants and churches will reopen in Italy on Monday as part of a fresh wave of lockdown easing in Europe, but rising coronavirus death tolls in Brazil, South Africa and other parts of the world showed the worst is still to come in many countries.

Italy COVID-19 crisis
Many parts of Europe are easing their coronavirus lockdowns, but infections and deaths from the disease are still soaring in other parts of the world Photo: AFP / Andreas SOLARO

The relaxation of curbs in some places comes as governments around the world struggle to repair the vast economic damage unleashed by the pandemic, with Japan the latest to slump into a recession and the Fed warning of a severe US downturn as the global infection count topped 4.7 million.

People practise social distancing
People practise social distancing at a park in Brooklyn, New York. The United States has the world's highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths. Photo: AFP / Johannes EISELE

But the World Health Organization has warned that reopening too quickly without a vaccine could trigger a second devastating wave of infections, and the body will host a virtual global health assembly this week to help chart a course out of the crisis.

A body is cremated in Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico
A body is cremated in Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico, where authorities recommend not to have wakes when a person dies from COVID-19 or is suspected so, and to cremate or bury the corpse immediately Photo: AFP / ALFREDO ESTRELLA

Once the worst-hit country in the world, Italy on Monday will take its latest step in a cautious, gradual return to normality, allowing businesses and churches to reopen after a two-month lockdown.

"I share the joy of those communities who can finally reunite as liturgical assemblies, a sign of hope for all society," Pope Francis said on Sunday during his live-streamed prayer, with Saint Peter's Basilica also throwing its door open to visitors.

Hairdresser in PPE
A hairdresser in protective gear attends to a customer at a hair and beauty salon in Nadiad, nearAhmedabad, India Photo: AFP / SAM PANTHAKY

The Vatican, an independent enclave in the heart of Rome, has applied the same anti-virus measures as Italy, which imposed strict lockdowns after a dizzying rise in COVID-19 deaths and infections that overwhelmed hospitals.

Nurses assigned to the Infectious Diseases Unit (IDU) at the Kenyatta University Hospital dance during a Zumba class in the hospital compound in Nairobi Photo: AFP / TONY KARUMBA

Businesses including restaurants, bars, cafes, hairdressers, and stores will be allowed to re-open on Monday. Gyms, pools, cinemas and theatres are allowed to open on May 25.

Doctors without borders
A Doctors Without Borders nurse performs a swab test for COVID-19 in Lenasia, Johannesburg Photo: AFP / Michele Spatari

Spain is also set to further ease its lockdown measures, while Germany has already taken several steps towards a reopening, including the resumption of its top football league -- but with empty stadiums.

There was other welcome relief for Europeans on the weekend too, with people enjoying beaches in France, Greece and Italy, and Britons going to parks to bask in the sun.

barber wearing a facemask
A barber wearing a facemask cuts a customer's hair at an open-air stall in Islamabad Photo: AFP / Aamir QURESHI
Protest in Madrid
People protest in Madrid against the measures taken by the Spanish government during the national lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 Photo: AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU
Beachy Head near Eastbourne
People pose for photographs on the cliff-edge at Beachy Head near Eastbourne following an easing of lockdown rules in England Photo: AFP / Ben STANSALL

Despite the optimism in parts of Europe, the deadly pandemic remains on the march having claimed more than 315,000 lives, with worrying data from South America and Africa offering a reminder of the severity of the crisis.

Deaths in Brazil have risen sharply in recent days, and with more than 241,000 infections reached over the weekend, South America's largest country now has the fourth-highest caseload in the world.

Deaths in Aden have surged to at least five times higher than normal, an NGO and medics say, igniting fears that coronavirus is spreading unhindered in the Yemeni port city. Photo: AFPTV / Nabil HASAN

But President Jair Bolsonaro has been a staunch opponent of lockdowns, claiming they have unnecessarily hurt the Brazilian economy, but experts and regional leaders have warned that the healthcare infrastructure could collapse.

COVID-19 burial
A COVID-19 coronavirus victim is buried a graveyard in New Delhi Photo: AFP / Sajjad HUSSAIN

The far-right leader alongside several ministers greeted hundreds of his supporters in the capital Brasilia on Sunday in defiance of social distancing measures, telling the crowd that the virus restrictions were too much.

Latin America and the Caribbean have recorded more than half a million infections, with almost half of them from Brazil, and there is growing alarm about the impact of the virus on the least privileged in the region.

Ecuador reported the first COVID-19 case in one of its indigenous Amazon tribes, deepening the crisis in one of South America's hardest-hit countries.

Rights groups in Nicaragua have accused the government of hiding the true number of COVID-19 cases by rushing burials.

Nicaraguan hospital staff have said the Nicaraguan health system is overwhelmed with patients suffering from respiratory illnesses, relatives say the bodies of loved ones are being carted off in pick-up trucks for "express burials" without their consent.

There was also grim data in Africa, where the number of infections rose rapidly.

South Africa on Sunday reported 1,160 new coronavirus infections, the highest daily number since the first case was recorded in March, taking the total to 15,515 -- the highest on the continent.

In Asia, India extended its lockdown -- the world's biggest -- to the end of May as it reported its biggest single-day jump in infections on Sunday.

The pandemic has left the world economy facing its worst downturn since the Great Depression, and governments are scrambling to figure out how long they can sustain lockdowns with no vaccine available.

There was yet more evidence of the deep economic damage done by the coronavirus on Monday, as Japan slid into its first recession since 2015 and some analysts predicted the worst is yet to come.

US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell warned the American economy -- the world's largest -- is going to suffer a massive downturn.

He added that a full recovery may not happen without a COVID-19 vaccine.

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