Small shops reopened Wednesday in Berlin as a few nations began easing coronavirus restrictions to restart their economies, but trepidation expressed by some workers and customers indicated a return to normality is still a long way off.
Restrictions were also being eased in Denmark and Austria. In France, long lines built up outside the few McDonald’s drive-thrus that started serving customers again. In the U.S., some states were relaxing restrictions amid vocal protests by those demanding to return to work.
Although some virus hot spots like Italy, Spain and New York have seen a drop in daily death tolls and new hospitalizations, other areas are facing a resurgence of the coronavirus. Singapore, once a model of virus tracking and prevention, saw an explosion of new cases and announced Wednesday it would extend its lockdown into June.
In California, health officials said two people with coronavirus died in the state weeks before the first reported U.S. death from the disease on Feb. 29 in the state of Washington. The development shows that COVID-19 had been circulating in the U.S. earlier than was previously thought.
There has been growing impatience over virus-related shutdowns that have seen tens of millions of people lose their jobs. But even in areas where businesses were allowed to open, some were hesitant.
Galina Hooge, who opened her small Berlin toy store for the first time in over a month, welcomed the change but remained wary.
“Of course I’m happy that I can open again and we can keep our heads above water,” she said. Government aid had covered the store’s rent and bills, and Hooge said she felt relatively secure thanks to Germany’s universal health insurance and strong social safety net.
But she worried that some Germans still aren’t taking the outbreak seriously.
“Relaxing the rules doesn’t mean that everything is over. It’s not over by a long stretch,” she said.
Serbia reopened open-air food markets Wednesday, with vendors wearing masks and gloves, along with shops selling technical goods and bookstores. Authorities also shortened a daily curfew by one hour and allowed people over 65 to go for a walk three times a week.
Serbia’s elderly had been ordered indoors for over a month. The country has reported 6,890 infections and 130 deaths.
Across the Atlantic in Savannah, Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp announced that gyms and salons can reopen this week, gym owner Mark Lebos said it would be professional negligence to do so right now.
“We are not going to be a vector of death and suffering,” he said.
In California, Santa Clara County officials said two people who died at home on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17 tested positive for the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom promised a “deep dive” update Wednesday of the state’s ability to test for the coronavirus and to track and isolate people who have it. He said that is one of six key indicators needed to lift a “stay-at-home” order which has slowed the spread of the virus but forced millions of people to file for unemployment.
The pandemic has infected over 2.5 million people and killed more than 178,000 around the world, including more than 45,000 in the U.S., according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Health authorities have warned the crisis is far from over and that relaxing stay-at-home orders too quickly could enable the virus to come surging back.
Economic damage mounted as oil prices suffered an epic collapse and U.S. stocks registered their worst loss in weeks Tuesday on Wall Street. Asian and European markets were mostly higher Wednesday.
The U.S. Senate approved nearly $500 billion in coronavirus aid for businesses, hospitals and testing after Congress and the White House reached a deal.
Spain, one of the world’s worst-hit countries, was getting ready to allow children out of their homes next week for the first time in nearly six weeks. The country’s death toll reached 21,717, behind only the United States and Italy, after 435 more deaths were reported Wednesday. Spain has over 208,000 confirmed infections.
Both numbers reflect the plateauing of the nation’s outbreak over recent days as a result of Spain’s strict home confinement rules.
“I am aware of the tremendous effort that the confinement has demanded of our smallest ones and their families,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said. “I insist that this exception, this small relief … must not impact the general confinement restrictions that remain in place.”
In another hopeful sign, a large makeshift morgue at a Madrid ice rink was closing as the daily toll dropped under 500 deaths from a high of 950 three weeks ago.
But Singapore, which had been praised for its swift response and meticulous tracing of contacts in the early stage of the outbreak, was grappling with an explosion of cases in foreign worker dorms that were largely overlooked earlier. The tiny city-state’s infections surged to 10,141 after it reported 1,016 new cases Wednesday, maintaining its position as the worst-hit nation in Southeast Asia.
In Pakistan, doctors urged the country’s religious clerics and prime minister to reverse a decision to leave mosques open during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, warning it could result in an explosion of COVID-19 cases. Large gatherings will only increase infections and overwhelm the health care system that has less than 3,000 acute care beds for 220 million people, said Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, chief of the Pakistan Medical Association.
India partially eased one of the world’s strictest lockdowns this week, but health officials fear a surge in cases.
The country is planning to use wristbands fitted with a contact-tracing app, Arogya Setu, to help people identify their risk of infection. The wristband aims to counter the vast manpower needed to try to track the contacts of coronavirus patients among the country’s 1.3 billion people. Officials said it is likely to be rolled out in May.
In the U.S., some states, including Tennessee, West Virginia and Colorado, announced plans to begin loosening restrictions in stages in the coming days. Sunbathers flocked to those South Carolina beaches that reopened with the governor’s backing.
Yet political tensions over restrictions showed no signs of easing.
Sheriffs in Washington state, Michigan and Wisconsin said they won’t enforce stay-at-home orders. Angry protesters demanding the lifting of restrictions marched in Alabama, North Carolina and Missouri with signs like “Enough is enough.” Wisconsin Republicans asked the state’s high court to block an extension of the stay-at-home order there.
Numerous governors and local leaders have said before they can relax social distancing restrictions, they need help from Washington to expand testing to help keep the virus in check.