Many lockdowns ease but Russia, India, UK still struggling
ROME (AP) — From the United States to Europe to Asia, the easing of some coronavirus lockdowns brought millions out of their homes to enjoy the outdoors. Yet the global pandemic is still slicing through the defenses of other nations, causing infections and deaths to march relentlessly higher.
India on Sunday reported more than 2,600 infections, its biggest single-day jump, and new coronavirus cases in Russia exceed 10,000 for the first time. The confirmed virus death toll in Britain was creeping up near that of Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak, even though the U.K. population is younger than Italy’s and Britain had more time than Italy to prepare before the pandemic hit.
There was also worrying news from Afghanistan, where nearly a third tested positive in a random test of 500 people in Kabul, the capital city.
Health experts warn that a second wave of infections could hit unless testing is expanded dramatically after lockdowns are eased. But there are enormous pressures to reopen economies, since the weeks-long shutdown of businesses around the world has plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s and has wiped out millions of jobs.
China, which reported two only new cases, is seeing a surge in visitors to newly reopened tourist spots after domestic travel restrictions were relaxed ahead of a five-day holiday that runs through Tuesday.
Nearly 1.7 million people visited Beijing parks on the first two days of the holiday, and Shanghai’s main tourist spots welcomed more than 1 million visitors, according to Chinese media. Many spots limited daily visitors to 30% of capacity.
Italians are counting down the hours until Monday, when parks and public gardens were re-opening nationwide for strolling, jogging or bike riding. But with sunshine and warm temperatures across the country, many were outside in force Sunday, walking down streets and chatting on sidewalks.
Despite the easing, Italians will still have to stay a meter apart, picnics are not allowed and playgrounds will remain closed. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has warned that if the rate of contagion starts rising again, such freedoms will be curtailed.
In a sign of the ongoing struggle against the virus, Rome’s infectious diseases hospital admitted 28 COVID-19 patients from a local nursing home. Italy’s nursing homes have been devastated by the pandemic.
In Spain, many ventured out this weekend for the first time since the country’s lockdown began March 14 but social distancing rules were still in place. Masks are mandatory starting Monday on public transit.
“There is highly probability that we will see new outbreaks,” said Spanish health expert Fernando Simón. “That is what we must be prepared for and keep in mind over the following months.”
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure to reveal how the country will leave the lockdown that began March 23. The restrictions are due to last through Thursday, but with hundreds of deaths still being reported daily — twice as many recently as Italy or Spain — it’s unclear how the country can safely loosen the restrictions.
While Johnson says Britain is past the peak of its coronavirus outbreak, his Conservative government is facing sharp criticism as it becomes clear that Britain will have one of the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the world. British medical workers have also complained about a shortage of protective equipment.
The 55-year-old Johnson, who spent three nights in intensive care while being treated for COVID-19, told The Sun newspaper that he knew his doctors were preparing for the worst.
“It was a tough old moment, I won’t deny it,” he said. “They had a strategy to deal with a ‘death of Stalin’-type scenario’’ if he succumbed to the virus.
In the U.S., New Jersey reopened its state parks, though several had to turn people away after reaching a 50% limit in their parking lots. Margie Roebuck and her husband were among the first on the sand at Island Beach State Park.
“Forty-six days in the house was enough,” she said.
The divide in the United States between those who want lockdowns to end and those who want to move more cautiously extended to Congress.
The Republican-majority Senate will reopen Monday in Washington, D.C., while the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is staying shuttered. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to convene 100 senators gives President Donald Trump, a Republican, the imagery he wants of America getting back to work, despite health worries and a lack of testing.
Russia announced 10,633 new infections on Sunday, nearly double the new cases reported a week ago. More than half of Russia’s new cases were in Moscow, where concern is rising about whether the capital’s medical facilities will be overwhelmed.
Russian epidemiologist Alexander Gintsburg, however, told the Interfax news agency that the sharp increase in coronavirus cases reflected increased testing, which has doubled over the past 10 days, and did not indicate a deepening pandemic.
Russia has reported 1,222 virus deaths among 124,000 infections, numbers that health experts widely believe undercount the true toll of its outbreak.
In India, air force helicopters showered flower petals on hospitals in several cities Sunday to thank doctors, nurses and police at the forefront of the battle against the pandemic. U.S. Navy and Air Force fighter jets flew over Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington on Saturday to honor health care workers.
The number of confirmed cases in India neared 40,000 as the country of 1.3 billion marked the 40th day of a nationwide lockdown that has upended lives, cost millions of jobs and left millions hungry and desperate. The official death toll reached 1,323.
Afghanistan’s health ministry said Sunday that 156 people were confirmed positive out of 500 randomly tested in Kabul, the capital. Spokesman Wahid Mayar called the results concerning.
Pope Francis called Sunday for international collaboration in the search for a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19 and invited faithful of all religions to spiritually unite in prayer, fasting and works of charity on May 14.
The virus has infected 3.4 million people and killed more than 244,000 worldwide, including more than 66,000 dead in the United States, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.
Europe has seen more than 139,00 confirmed virus deaths, with more than 28,000 each in Italy and Britain and around 25,000 each in France and Spain. All the numbers are considered to be undercounts, due to testing issues, the problems of counting deaths in a pandemic and deliberate concealment by some governments.
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