New York’s coronavirus death toll has topped 10,000 as the absence of new hotspots in the world provided optimism in global efforts against the disease, despite a return to normal unlikely anytime soon.
Officials around the world are worried that halting quarantine and social distancing measures could easily undo hard-earned progress.
READ MORE:Keep up to date with the latest global COVID-19 developments
The United States
In New York state, 671 new deaths have marked the first time in a week that the daily toll dipped below 700.
Almost 2000 people were newly hospitalised with the virus on Sunday, though once discharges and deaths are accounted for, the number of people in hospital has flattened to just under 19,000.
“This virus is very good at what it does. It is a killer,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said overnight during a state news briefing.
It comes as the COVID-19 pandemic’s new epicentre has now become the United States, which has seen more than 22,000 deaths in total – the world’s highest.
About half have been in the New York metropolitan area and other indicators suggest lockdowns and social distancing are working.
The country’s infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said parts of the country could gradually reopen as early as next month.
It comes as coronavirus has thrown millions out of work and devastated economies worldwide, with governments struggling with the delicate balance between keeping people safe from a highly contagious disease and making sure they can still make a living or have enough to eat.
French President Emmanuel Macron says he is extending a virtual lockdown to curb the coronavirus outbreak until May 11, adding that progress has been made but the battle has not yet been won.
Acknowledging his country had not been sufficiently prepared early on to face the challenges posed by the outbreak of the coronavirus, Mr Macron said the unprecedented restrictions put in place were showing results.
“The epidemic is starting to slow down. The results are there,” Mr Macron said in a televised address.
“Thanks to your efforts, every day we have made progress…But our country was not sufficiently ready for this crisis. We will all draw all the consequences.”
Mr Macron’s prime time address came as France ended a fourth week under lockdown, with residents ordered to stay at home except to buy food, go to work, seek medical care or get some exercise on their own.
After a relentless increase until the first week of April, the number of patients in French hospitals’ intensive care units has started to decline, prompting health authorities to call a plateau in the deadly epidemic.
But if French hospitals are just about coping, helped by a massive effort to transfer patients by plane, helicopter or even high-speed train from hospitals in the east and Paris to the west, nursing homes have been overwhelmed.
By Monday, the coronavirus had claimed 14,967 lives in France – the fourth-highest death toll in the world – with more than 98,076 confirmed cases, according to official figures.
Officials said that 6821 patients were currently in intensive care units, down from 6845 on Sunday.
Mr Macron said that by May 11, France would be able to test anyone presenting COVID-19 symptoms.
Schools and creches would progressively re-open, he said.
Mr Macron’s government has faced accusations of failing to address a shortage of masks and testing kits.
In Spain, one of the hardest hit countries in the pandemic, workers in some nonessential industries returned to their jobs.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said his government must balance its response to the virus crisis that “threatens to destroy lives and at the same time destroy the economic and social fabric of our country.”
The country overnight reported its lowest daily growth in infections in three weeks.
Retail stores and services remain closed, and office workers are strongly encouraged to keep working from home.
A prohibition on people leaving home for anything other than groceries and medicine will remain in effect for at least two weeks.
Despite that, Health Minister Salvador Illa said that the government will move carefully on allowing others to end their self-isolation.
He said officials will proceed with “the utmost caution and prudence… and always based on scientific evidence.”
“We’re in no position to be setting dates” about when isolation might end.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves.”
Some health experts and politicians argue that it’s premature to ease the lockdown in a nation that has suffered almost 17,500 deaths and reported more than 169,000 infections.
Meanwhile in Italy, the day-to-day increase in new COVID-19 cases was one of the lowest in weeks, bolstering a generally downward trend.
That brought Italy’s known cases to nearly 160,000, while day-to-day death toll, 566, was up from the 431 new deaths registered on Sunday.
In Veneto, one of the country’s most infected regions, officials are relaxing some restrictions on movement as they enter a phase the governor, Luca Zaia, termed ”lockdown light.”
Zaia is expanding the 200-metre from home radius for physical fitness and allowing open-air markets in a new ordinance that takes effect tomorrow.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged a cautious approach to any loosening of restrictions in the country and planned to hold a video conference with regional governors this week.
The meeting was called after Armin Laschet, governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, said “the willingness for restrictions also needs the prospect of normalisation.”
His government came up with a plan for gradually easing the restrictions imposed on March 22, when public gatherings were limited to only two people.
In the United Kingdom, the national death toll has now passed 11,000 and the government has announced it does not expect to relax social distancing lockdown measures this week.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has been deputising Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his COVID-19 recovery, said the government’s next decision will come after a review of the current lockdown by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
“We don’t expect to make any changes to the measures at that point and we won’t until we are confident – as confident as we realistically can be – that any such changes can be made,” he told a daily press briefing on Monday.
“If we lift up now the virus will only take full advantage, it will spread faster and it will kill more people.
In South Korea, officials warned that hard-earned progress fighting the virus could be eroded by new infections as restrictions ease., while Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a global plea to the world’s richer countries and international financial institutions to provide debt-relief for poor countries.
Khan last week relaxed his country’s lockdown to allow the construction industry, which employs the vast majority of Pakistan’s daily wage earners, to re-open.
In South Korea, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said officials were discussing new public guidelines that would allow for “certain levels of economic and social activity” while also maintaining distance to slow the virus’ spread.
South Korea’s caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting around 500 new daily cases, but officials have warned of a broader “quiet spread” at locations such as bars, which are still open.
President Moon Jae-in vowed on Monday to focus on saving jobs and protecting the economy amid a sharp increase in the number of people seeking unemployment benefits.
South Korea’s vice health minister, Kim Gang-lip, said a quick return to normality was “virtually impossible” considering the threat of new infections.
“A premature easing (of social distancing) would come at an irrevocable cost, so we should approach the issue very carefully, and invest deep thought into when and how to transition,” Kim said.
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