Paris: France and Belgium further relaxed their Covid-19 restrictions Wednesday, allowing restaurants and cafes to serve indoors, while the United States eased travel warnings for dozens of countries as vaccinations boost hopes of a return to normal life.
With more than 3.7 million lives lost globally, many nations are still struggling to contain their coronavirus outbreaks. But the rapid vaccine rollout in wealthier parts of the world, including Europe, is allowing the return of some activities considered unthinkable just a few months ago.
In France, that included sipping a drink inside a cafe, allowed on Wednesday for the first time in months.
"It's a pleasure to have a coffee inside. Normal life is gradually resuming," said transport employee Hammou Mraoui, enjoying a coffee in a bar in the Meudon suburb of Paris.
With the easing of the curfew in France, venues are not only open, they're staying open later too.
The new measures also saw gyms open their doors to the relief of eager fitness buffs like Stephanie Moscoso.
"I put on the alarm clock this morning, it was super early, I saw the sun, I said to myself: this is the beginning of a new life!" said the 35-year-old, who hit her local gym in Paris at 8:00 am.
If all goes to plan, French authorities will drop the overnight curfew entirely on June 30.
Belgium also relaxed restrictions, allowing cafes and restaurants to serve indoors from Wednesday, while mask-wearing rules were also eased in Brussels.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced longer operating hours for businesses and easing of restrictions on sports venues and cinemas.
- Liveable cities -
The easing of lockdown measures across Europe comes after the bloc's once-struggling vaccination campaign continues to gather pace.
Almost half of all adults in the EU have received at least one shot, with almost 26 percent fully vaccinated, according to official data.
That progress is allowing Europe's governments to strike a better balance between public health and reviving sectors such as tourism that were devastated by pandemic travel restrictions.
The hopeful outlook in Europe is a far cry from the early days of the pandemic, when it was one of the worst-hit regions in the world.
The impact of that phase was visible in the world's most liveable cities list released Wednesday, which saw cities in Australia, Japan and New Zealand -- all with swift coronavirus responses -- leaping ahead of those in Europe.
"Auckland rose to the top of the ranking owing to its successful approach in containing the Covid-19 pandemic, which allowed its society to remain open and the city to score strongly," said the Economist Intelligence Unit, which compiles the list.
It cited the stress on health infrastructure for the poor showing of European cities, which also had a knock-on effect on culture and overall liveability because of restrictions on movement.
Australia's successful coronavirus response has included snap lockdowns for even small outbreaks.
Five million Melbourne residents are set to emerge from one such two-week lockdown on Thursday, imposed in response to the detection of a cluster.
- The return of gigs -
The United States on Tuesday eased its warnings against travel to dozens of countries, including Olympics host Japan and much of Europe, with the State Department asking Americans to reconsider travel but ending blanket advice to not go at all.
The United States has had one of the most successful vaccine rollouts in the world, and President Joe Biden has set a goal of giving at least one shot to 70 percent of American adults by July 4.
The current figure stands at 63.7 percent, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As vaccine drives have gathered pace, the United States has seen dramatic easing of curbs in many parts, including New York City where concerts and shows are set to return.
Bruce Springsteen announced Monday that his hit Broadway show will return on June 26, in front of vaccinated audiences.
And on June 20, Madison Square Garden will host thousands of vaccinated Foo Fighters fans at the first capacity concert at a New York arena since the virus struck last year.
"We've been waiting for this day for over a year," said frontman Dave Grohl.
"And Madison Square Garden is going to feel that HARD."