As governments ease restrictions, public health experts have warned that the coronavirus could pick up again if precautions aren't taken or officials move too quickly to get people back to work
VENICE geared up to receive tourists, Milan’s pizzerias prepared to open and Australians headed out to eat for the first time in weeks on Saturday, but the reopening of restaurants, pubs and cafes came with a warning: Don’t overdo it.
Public health experts are urging caution as governments ease restrictions on eateries, shops and parks in many countries and roll out measures to restart dormant factories. The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 300 000 people, has slowed in many places but could pick up again if precautions aren’t taken or officials move too quickly to get people back to work.
“The message is, yes, appreciate all the efforts, appreciate the opportunity to release some of those measures, but let’s not have a party, let’s not go to town,” said Tony Bartone, president of the Australian Medical Association.
Most restaurants are limited to 10 customers at a time, and Bartone said people must maintain social distance, follow coughing etiquette, wash their hands regularly and stay away from others if they are ill.
In New Zealand, even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her fiance, Clarke Gayford, were initially turned away for Saturday brunch by a restaurant in the capital city, Wellington, because it was too full under coronavirus guidelines.
Gayford took responsibility, saying he hadn’t made reservations. There was a happy ending, as a spot freed up and staff chased down the street to call the couple back.
“A+ service,” Gayford tweeted.
Italy’s tourism industry is focused firmly on June 3, when both regional and international borders reopen, allowing the first prospect of tourists since Europe’s first lockdown went into place in early March. In tourist-reliant Venice, occupancy of the city’s 50 000 hotel beds has hovered around zero ever since.
“Venice lives on tourism, period,” said Claudio Scarpa, head of the city’s hotel association. ”All the economic structures that operate in the city, including the port, are tied to tourism.”
While Venice hopes for some kind of restart, it may have to wait a while yet. Germany – its border about a four-hour drive from Venice – is instructing citizens not to travel abroad for tourism until at least June 15.
France was also being cautious, calling for a co-ordinated European effort on opening. At the same time, it could make decisions “that protect the French” regarding countries “where the virus is still active”, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Saturday.
In Milan, Italy’s financial capital, 3 400 restaurants plan to open on Monday, along with 4 800 bars, 2 900 hairdressers, 2 200 clothing stores and 700 shoe shops.
“After a long period at home, we will all want to go out and have a good coffee in a bar, eat a pizza in a pizzeria, buy a pair of jeans, or go to the hairdressers,” Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala said in a Facebook video on Saturday.
Many restaurant owners, however, complained that the new rules for reopening were unclear and that the entire sector – including suppliers and food producers – was suffering. Dozens protested on Saturday outside Milan’s main train station in front of signs reading: “I won’t open today to close tomorrow”, and calling for an abolition of taxes and more concrete help.
In Britain, officials and tourism boards were discouraging people from visiting popular tourist spots – like beaches or country parks – on the first weekend since lockdown rules were eased in England. Rules remain stricter in other parts of the UK and English day-trippers have been warned against crossing into Scotland or Wales.
In the United States, an Associated Press analysis found that 41 of the nation’s 50 states fall short of the Covid-19 testing levels that experts say are necessary to avoid another wave of outbreaks, even as some of those states move aggressively to allow businesses to reopen.
Rapid, widespread testing is considered essential to tracking and containing the coronavirus. The AP analysis is based on metrics developed by Harvard University’s Global Health Institute.
Harvard researchers have calculated that the US needs to test at least 900 000 people daily to reopen the economy safely, nearly three times the current tally of about 360 000, according to figures compiled by the COVID Tracking Project website.
Among the states falling short are Texas and Georgia, which have reopened shopping malls, barbershops and other businesses, although New York state is moving more cautiously.
“I really do feel there are dangers here to opening up without enough tests, but I don’t feel it’s a uniform danger everywhere in the country,” said Dr Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute.
In South Korea, which has one of the highest levels of testing, a Health Ministry spokesman said on Saturday that the country may have dodged a major outbreak after finding 162 cases linked to club-goers in Seoul, the densely populated capital.
Son Young-rae said 46 000 people have been tested in the club-related outbreak.
India overtook China in the number of confirmed infections as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is due to announce this weekend a decision whether to extend the 54-day-old lockdown. India counted 85 940 infections and 2 752 deaths compared to China’s 82 941 confirmed cases and 4 633 fatalities.
China is shortening its annual legislative session, which begins late next week in Beijing, as small clusters of cases pop up elsewhere in the country. The spread of the disease has largely stopped in the country where the pandemic started, but Jilin province in the north-east has reported 28 cases over nine days, the latest two on Friday.
In Mexico, the number of new confirmed cases hit a new daily high on Friday, even as the government clarified guidelines for the construction, mining and automotive industries to start returning to work on Monday.
The country recorded more than 2 000 cases for the second straight day, suggesting its outbreak has yet to peak. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, straddling the issue, said on Friday that “we have to be more careful, not relax the discipline.”
Meanwhile, efforts to find effective testing methods for the new coronavirus now include man’s best friend. British researchers are launching a trial to see whether dogs can use their noses to detect whether humans have Covid-19 before they show symptoms.
Britain’s health department said that disease control experts are looking into whether dogs, which have been trained to sniff out certain cancers and malaria, can potentially be used as a “non-invasive, early warning measure” to identify the coronavirus.
Six dogs, including Labradors and cocker spaniels, have started basic training for the trial.