The Republican’s order unleashed fresh debate in the politically divided state, where pandemic responses have become intertwined with the upcoming presidential election. DeSantis acknowledged that the pandemic is far from over, but said the threat has eased.
“We’re not closing anything going forward,” DeSantis said, while insisting that the state is prepared if infections increase again.
The governor said he would stop cities and counties from collecting fines on people who don’t wear face masks.
“As an act of executive grace, all fines and penalties that have been applied against individuals are suspended,” the governor said.
The Democrats bemoaned the push to reopen as hasty.
“No one is advocating for a full-scale lockdown in Florida. But we have been and continue to ask for common sense prevention measures such as face masks, which are essential to preventing further spread,” state senator Audrey Gibson said.
Florida has long been a Covid-19 hotspot, with nearly 700,000 infected. Nearly 14,000 have died.
Efforts to contain a second wave of coronavirus in Europe’s worst affected areas were in disarray on Friday as national and regional governments clashed over the severity of new restrictions and their economic costs.
Many countries in Europe are witnessing a sharp increased in confirmed Covid-19 cases, but there is widespread reluctance to repeat the stringent lockdown measures that appeared to bring the virus under control in the early summer.
In Spain, Madrid’s conservative-run regional administration defied a call from the leftwing national government to place the whole capital under controls limiting residents’ movements.
Health minister Salvador Illa said curbs applied earlier this week to districts that are home to 850,000 people should be enforced across the city, warning that the capital faced some “very hard weeks”. But his appeal was rebuffed by the Madrid region. The two administrations have been a loggerheads for months, trading blame for the high death rate from Covid-19 in the spring and a deep economic crisis triggered by lockdown measures.
Spain reported 12,000 new cases on Friday and is the worst hit country in Europe, with a two-week average of 282 cases per 100,000. In Madrid, the average infection rate is 722 per 100,000.
Political bickering between central government and the regions, which are largely responsible for healthcare, has hampered the coronavirus response, say analysts.
In Marseille, one of the hardest regions of France which is also experiencing an alarming spike in infections, bar-owners and restaurateurs took to the streets in protest at a two-week hospitality ban which comes into effect on Saturday.
Even though Marseille hospitals are already under strain, local political leaders have rebelled against tougher restrictions imposed by central government, insisting they had the surge in cases under control. The deputy mayor of Marseille called the curbs “an affront”.
But French health minister Olivier Veran said the “health situation in Marseille has badly deteriorated for several weeks leading to a major risk”.
Like the UK, France has ordered bars in Paris and other cities to close by 10pm but has so far eschewed more widespread social distancing requirements.
In the US, the number of cases surpassed 7m, with more than 45,000 new cases reported on Thursday together with 885 deaths.
In the Netherlands, new cases jumped to 2,777 on Friday, the highest tally since the pandemic began. “The figures look downright terrible,” said prime minister Mark Rutte.
In Britain, regional administrations expressed frustrations at the limited curbs adopted by the UK government. Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, urged prime minister Boris Johnson to impose tighter restrictions when the capital was placed on higher alert after recording 620 cases, double the number a week ago. Britain reported 6,874 new cases in total on Friday. “Ministers simply have to get a grip,” said Mr Khan.
Cardiff and Swansea, the two biggest cities in Wales, will be placed in local lockdown from Sunday evening.
The Scottish government meanwhile is grappling with outbreaks at several universities with more than 500 students testing positive.
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister, on Friday told students that they would not be subject to special coronavirus restrictions after this weekend — an assurance that followed widespread confusion about tougher measures announced by Scottish universities this week.
The World Health Organization warned Friday that coronavirus deaths could more than double to two million if infection-fighting measures are not kept up, as Europe tightened the screws faced with mounting cases and the US crossed another bleak milestone.
Global deaths had reached 985,707 according to an AFP tally around 1800 GMT Friday, from more than 32.3 million cases.
Rio's carnival, famous for its Samba dancers, drummers and dancing crowds, draws millions for all night parties in packed streets Photo: AFP / CARL DE SOUZA
The hardest-hit US crossed seven million cases -- more than a fifth of the global total despite accounting for only four percent of the world population.
"One million is a terrible number and we need to reflect on that before we start considering a second million," the WHO's emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters when asked how much higher deaths could mount.
British pubs and bars were to start closing early after the government imposed new virus curbs Photo: AFP / Tolga AKMEN
But he added: "Are we prepared collectively to do what it takes to avoid that number?
"If we don't take those actions... yes, we will be looking at that number and sadly much higher."
The WHO warning came as Spanish officials expanded a lockdown in and around Madrid on Friday to cover one million people.
Graphic highlighting the countries with the largest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths September 18-24. Photo: AFP / John SAEKI
Madrid's health authority said new rules largely banning tens of thousands from leaving their districts -- in addition to the 850,000 already living under similar restrictions -- would be enforced from Monday.
Across Europe, new spikes were springing up, with Poland and France the latest to register record figures.
Back to school means new measures and masks, like here in Colombia Photo: AFP / LEONARDO MUNOZ
France's daily cases soared past 16,000 for the first time in a stark indicator of the virus's resurgence, and the French government faced protests from the hospitality industry as it prepares tough new restrictions.
Across the Channel, British authorities announced restrictions now extending to one-quarter of the country's population, while two supermarket chains said they were rationing purchases of certain goods to clamp down on panic buying.
Moscow ordered vulnerable residents to avoid infection by staying at home, while Israel ratcheted up its lockdown by stopping people from taking flights out of the country.
AC Milan's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the latest sports star to test positive for the virus Photo: AFP / MIGUEL MEDINA
And in Brazil, the coronavirus fallout for Rio de Janeiro's world-famous carnival grew as organisers postponed street parties in February indefinitely, a day after the official parades were scrapped.
The last call echoed around pubs and bars in London and Wales earlier than usual Thursday night, as tighter rules to try to stop a coronavirus surge came into force. Photo: AFPTV / Arman SOLDIN
Jorge Castanheira, president of the group that organises the parades, promised that "it's not a cancellation, it's a postponement" -- the carnival's first since 1912.
Famous for its gyrating samba dancers, drummers and dancing crowds, the carnival draws millions for all-night parties in packed streets, making social distancing all but impossible.
Brazil now has the world's second highest death toll -- nearly 140,000 fatalities against more than 200,000 in the US -- and is still battling to bring the virus under control.
Aside from carnival, major events disrupted by the pandemic on Friday alone included planned Australian cricket matches against Afghanistan and New Zealand, while the French Open tennis tournament said it would allow only 1,000 spectators each day.
Back in France, Marseille bar and restaurant owners gathered outside the city's commercial courthouse to demonstrate against forced closures starting Sunday evening -- "because this is where we'll probably come to declare bankruptcy," said Bernard Marty, president of the regional hospitality association.
Bars in capital Paris and a string of other cities will see their hours slashed, but will not close completely for now.
Eastern Europe emerged as another hotspot this week with EU officials warning on Thursday of an alarming rise in deaths and hospitalisations of more vulnerable patients in countries including Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Romania.
Poland, which was not included on the EU's list, saw infections double from just over 700 on Tuesday to more than 1,500 by Friday.
With rising cases and hospitalisations, Madrid's health workers were also reminded of the bleakest days of their own epidemic fight.
Diana Llorens, who works at the intensive care unit of a Madrid hospital, said the situation was leaving many in the health service feeling "frustrated, jaded, tired".
But there was a glimmer of hope from a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which suggested masks could help spread immunity to the virus by limiting people's exposure to only very small amounts of it.
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