BEIJING, China. May 23, 2020 (AFP) — China said Sunday that relations with the United States were “on the brink of a new Cold War”, fuelled in part by tensions over the coronavirus pandemic, as Muslims around the world celebrated a muted end to the holy month of Ramadan. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington had been infected by a “political virus” compelling figures there to continually attack China, but offered an olive branch by saying the country would be open to an international effort to find the coronavirus source.
“It has come to our attention that some political forces in the US are taking China-US relations hostage and pushing our two countries to the brink of a new Cold War,” he told reporters during a press conference at China’s week-long annual parliament session. He spoke as more nations eased lockdown restrictions in a bid to salvage economies and lifestyles that have been savaged by the pandemic.
Hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world were celebrating a muted Eid al-Fitr, with Islam’s two most important mosques closed to worshippers in Mecca and Medina. Still, churches were reopening in France, Spain’s football league announced it would kick off again on June 8, and thousands flocked to beaches in the US, where lockdowns and social distancing have become rights issues that have split communities.
Globally about 342,000 people have been killed, and more than 5.3 million people infected by the virus, which most scientists believe jumped from animals to humans — possibly at a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The issue has become highly politicised, with US President Donald Trump accusing Beijing of a lack of transparency, and pushing the theory that the virus leaked from a Chinese maximum-security laboratory.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday blasted what he called efforts by US politicians to “fabricate rumours” about the virus origin and “stigmatise China”. “China is open to working with the international scientific community to look into the source of the virus,” he said. “At the same time, we believe that this should be professional, fair and constructive.”
With infection numbers stabilising in the West, many governments are trying to move towards lighter social distancing measures that they hope will revive moribund business and tourism sectors. French churches were preparing to hold their first Sunday masses in more than two months after the government bowed to a ruling that they should be reopened — provided proper precautions were taken. “My cell phone is crackling with messages!” Father Pierre Amar, a priest in Versailles, told AFP.
‘ROBBED OF JOY’
France’s mosques, however, called on Muslims to stay at home for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. They said they would gradually resume services from June 3. In Pakistan, thousands gathered in mosques, but celebrations were muted by the crash Friday of a passenger plane into a residential neighbourhood in Karachi, killing 97 on board.
The country’s leading English daily, Dawn, said the crash and coronavirus epidemic — that has killed over 1,000 people in Pakistan — had robbed the “country of whatever little joy had been left at the prospect of Eid”. In Saudi Arabia, Eid prayers will be held at the two holy mosques in the cities of Mecca and Medina “without worshippers”, authorities said as the kingdom began a five-day curfew after infections quadrupled since the start of Ramadan.
For Christians in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will reopen on Sunday — but with tight restrictions. In Spain, which has enforced one of the world’s strictest lockdowns since mid-March, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sought to reassure potential visitors, saying that from July 1, “entry for foreign tourists into Spain will resume in secure conditions”. Italy is also due to reopen its borders to foreign tourists from June 3.
US BEACHES REOPENING
But the disease continued its surge in large parts of South America, with the death toll in Brazil passing 22,000 and infections topping 347,000, the world’s second-highest caseload. Neighbouring Peru is also struggling. The country of 32 million has registered more than 3,100 deaths. In the US, where the death toll is nearing 100,000, Trump has aggressively pushed to reopen the economy, defying the advice of health experts.
He sent a signal of his intentions by playing golf Saturday — his first round since March 8. The US economy has shed almost 40 million jobs this year and many companies, most recently car rental giant Hertz, have gone to the wall. But most states have begun easing their lockdowns and many on Saturday reopened public beaches. “We just get tired of being stuck in the house. There’s not much else to do. So I came to the beach,” stay-at-home mother Kayla Lambert said, as her two children played in the surf in Galveston, Texas.
In Britain, a scandal erupted over a disclosure that a top government adviser had even flouted the rules. Dominic Cummings was seen visiting his parents 250 miles (400 kilometres) away from his London home during the country’s lockdown, despite suffering from virus symptoms. He denies any wrongdoing but faces calls to quit.