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Countries facing pressure to loosen virus restrictions

By PTI Updated: Apr 13, 2020 11:25 pm
A woman rides an empty subway Monday, April 13, 2020, in Tokyo. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency last week for Tokyo and some other prefectures to ramp up defenses against the spread of the coronavirus. AP/PTI

Tokyo, April 13 (PTI/AP): South Korean officials warned Monday that hard-earned progress fighting the coronavirus pandemic could be upset by new infections at bars and leisure spots, highlighting global tensions between governments desperate to maintain social distancing and citizens eager to resume their lives as economic pressure mounts and infections slow in some places.

Some European nations have started tentative moves to ease their shutdowns. Hard-hit Spain, which on Sunday reported its lowest daily growth in infections in three weeks, will allow workers in some nonessential industries to return to factories and construction sites Monday.

South Korea’s caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting around 500 new cases a day, but officials have warned of a broader quiet spread, pointing to transmissions at locations such as bars that may indicate eased attitudes toward social distancing.

South Korean Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun said officials were discussing new public guidelines that would allow for people to engage in certain levels of economic and social activity while also maintaining distance to slow the spread of the virus.

Social distancing was still on full display for Easter Sunday celebrations around the globe, with many Christians marking the day isolated in their homes while pastors preached to empty pews.

St. Peter’s Square was barricaded to keep out crowds, while one Florida church drew a large turnout for a drive-in service in a parking lot.

Pope Francis called for global solidarity to confront the epochal challenge of the pandemic. He urged political leaders to give hope and opportunity to the millions laid off from work.

President Donald Trump in his Easter message paid tribute to the medical professionals, first responders and other essential workers striving to combat the pandemic. Back on March 24, Trump had broached the possibility that the U.S. could emerge from widespread lockdowns by this weekend.

I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter, he said.

Instead them US is new epicenter of the pandemic, with more than half a million cases and more than 22,000 deaths, the world’s highest. About half the U.S. deaths have been in the New York metropolitan area, but hospitalizations are slowing in the state and other indicators suggest that lockdowns and social distancing are flattening the curve of infections.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said the economy in parts of the country could gradually reopen as early as next month.

The Italian government said weekend police patrols resulted in more than 12,500 people being sanctioned and 150 facing criminal charges of violating lockdown measures. On the hopeful side, officials said Italy recorded the lowest number of virus deaths in three weeks, with 431 people dying in the past day to bring its total to over 19,800.

But while attention has focused on the U.S. and Southern Europe, new coronavirus hot spots have been emerging in Japan, Turkey and Britain, where the death toll passed 10,000.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the first major world leader to test positive for the virus, paid an emotional tribute to the country’s National Health Service following his release from the hospital, saying its doctors and nurses had saved his life no question.

He especially thanked two nurses who stood by his bedside for 48 hours when things could have gone either way. Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, has seen its number of new cases climb rapidly in recent days and now has 7,255 confirmed cases of the virus.

Japanese companies have been slow to switch to remote-working and people are still commuting, even after a state of emergency declaration for seven prefectures, including Tokyo.

In an effort to encourage citizens to stay at home, the government released a one-minute video showing Abe cuddling his dog, reading a book, sipping from a cup and clicking a remote control at home.

Abe’s message drew criticism that he didn’t understand the plight of those who cannot rest at home. Many called him an aristocrat.

In China, where the first coronavirus cases were detected late last year, a mask producer said it is rushing to fill orders from overseas while facing stricter quality inspections from Chinese regulators. Wuhan Zonsen, which makes masks and disinfection wipes, says 50 million in orders from European countries and the United States will keep them at full production capacity until June.

By PTI Updated: Apr 13, 2020 11:25:03 pm