Even as Covid-19 case numbers rise, governments face pressure to reopen factories, shops, travel and public activities
SOUTH Korea reported fewer than 10 new coronavirus cases on Sunday for the first time in two months as US governors ease lockdowns amid pressure worldwide from businesses and the public to limit the pandemic’s economic damage.
Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter under curbs that left churches empty. The leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians held a service in a desert monastery that was shown on television.
In Brazil, hundreds of people protested on Saturday in major cities against anti-virus lockdowns. France reported a decline in numbers of intensive care patients, but its health agency warned the public to stick to strict isolation measures.
The pandemic that began in China in December is believed to have infected more than 2.3 million people worldwide. While most recover, at least 155 000 have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University based on figures supplied by health authorities around the globe.
South Korea, the first country after China to report a surge in cases, announced its number of new infections fell on Sunday to eight. That raised its total to 10 661, including 234 deaths.
Infections in South Korea have fallen from a peak of 909 on February 29, but officials have warned that a “quiet spread” is possible as people relax social distancing.
“We must not let down our guard until the last confirmed patient is recovered,” President Moon Jae-in said on Sunday.
Japan reported 568 new cases for a total of 10 361, with 174 deaths. Pakistan reported 16 deaths and 514 new cases, raising its fatality toll to 159 and infections to 7 993.
Taiwan reported 22 new cases – a student who returned from the United States and 21 crew members of a naval ship that visited the Pacific island nation of Palau.
Even as case numbers rise, governments face pressure to reopen factories, shops, travel and public activities.
Shutdowns that began in China in late January and spread to the US, Europe and elsewhere have plunged the world into its most painful economic slump since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Millions of workers have lost their jobs.
The International Monetary Fund expects the global economy to contract by 3% this year – a far bigger loss than 2009′s 0.1% after the global financial crisis.
“Government efforts alone aren’t enough,” said South Korea’s Moon. He called for “public solidarity” to revitalise the economy.
In Egypt, Pope Tawadros II held Easter services at the Monastery of Saint Pishoy, in the desert valley of Wadi Natrun west of Cairo known as Wadi Natrun. The handful of clerics who attended stood apart from each other.
Christians comprise about 10% of Egypt’s 100 million people. The country has 3 032 coronavirus cases, including 224 deaths.
On Saturday, supporters of President Donald Trump protested in several states demanding governors end controls on public activity.
Texas, Indiana and some other states have announced plans to allow some retailing and other activity to resume. Florida and South Carolina are reopening beaches.
However, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has criticised the federal response as inadequate, rejected pressure to reopen businesses. New York’s daily death toll fell below 550 on Saturday for the first time in two weeks, but Cuomo said hospitals are reporting nearly 2 000 new patients a day.
“We are not at a point when we are going to be reopening anything immediately,” Cuomo told reporters.
Massachusetts had its highest single-day death toll of 159 on Friday. Republican Governor Charlie Baker, citing health experts’ advice, said states should wait until infection rates and hospitalisations decline for about two weeks before acting.
Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has criticised anti-virus shutdowns imposed by state governors, said on Saturday that he would recommend reopening its borders with Paraguay and Uruguay.
Bolsonaro has downplayed the threat of the disease. On Friday, he fired his health minister, who supported anti-disease controls, and indicated he expects the new minister to protect the economy.
Trump is pushing to relax the US lockdown by May 1, a plan that hinges partly on more testing.
Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, on a trip aimed at showing that the country is on course to reopen.
In Austin, Texas, several hundred people outside the state capitol chanted “Let us work!” Many clamoured for an immediate end to restrictions in a state where more than one million have filed for unemployment.
In Indianapolis, more than 200 people stood close together outside the governor’s mansion, carrying American flags and signs demanding that Governor Eric Holcomb lift restrictions.
Indiana’s state health department reported 529 new cases between April 7 and midday on Friday, raising the total to more than 10 600. The number of deaths rose by 26, to 545.
Elsewhere, demonstrators waved signs outside the Statehouse in New Hampshire, which has had nearly 1 300 cases and more than three dozen deaths.
“Even if the virus were 10 times as dangerous as it is, I still wouldn’t stay inside my home,” said one of the protesters, talk show host Ian Freeman.
In Asia, McDonald’s suspended operations in Singapore after seven employees tested positive for the conronavirus. The company said it will keep paying more than 10 000 employees in 135 outlets during the closure, due to last through May 4.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government bowed to demands by religious leaders and agreed to keep mosques open during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. Pakistan has been blamed for contributing to the virus’ spread by refusing to stop a gathering of tens of thousands of religious missionaries. Nearly 2 000 confirmed cases have been traced to them.
In Europe, there are tentative signs that anti-disease curbs are working.
France and Spain started dismantling some field hospitals. The number of active cases in Germany has declined over the past week as people recover.
Still, France’s health agency urged the public to stick to confinement measures that have been extended until at least May 11. “Don’t relax our efforts at the moment when confinement is bearing fruit,” the agency said.
Albania’s government plans to allow its mining and oil industries to reopen on Monday, along with hundreds of businesses including small retailers, food and fish processing, farming and fishing.