Countries split over easing of coronavirus lockdowns

Regional and political divisions have emerged in many nations over how fast to lift coronavirus lockdowns as worries about economic devastation collide with fears of a second wave of deaths.

In France, more than 300 mayors in the Paris region have urged President Emmanuel Macron to delay the reopening of schools scheduled for Monday.

Many mayors around the country have already refused to reopen schools and many parents will keep their children at home even where they are functioning again.

The mayors called the timing “untenable and unrealistic”, saying they were put on a “forced march” to get schools ready without enough staff or equipment, and complained that the government guidelines were too vague and slow in coming.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>(PA Graphics)</figcaption>
(PA Graphics)

But governments are also under pressure to reopen faster and kick-start economies that have been plunged into hibernation.

Italian regional governors are pressing to open shops and restaurants, just days after the country began easing its two-month lockdown, allowing 4.5 million people to return to work in offices and factories.

Governors are seeking to be allowed to present their own plans for reopening, tailored to the rate of infection and economic needs of their regions.

In Germany, whose 16 state governments are responsible for imposing and loosening lockdowns, some governors have been more impatient than others to open up businesses such as restaurants and hotels.

At a meeting on Wednesday with Chancellor Angela Merkel, it was agreed that state leaders would have wide leeway to decide when to open more sectors of the economy. They also will have to reimpose restrictions locally if coronavirus infections rebound.

In Russia, where the number of new infections is growing fast, President Vladimir Putin delegated the enforcement of lockdowns and other restrictions to regional governments, leading to wide variations across the country.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Russian President Vladimir Putin has given regional governments powers to make decisions on lockdowns (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)</figcaption>
Russian President Vladimir Putin has given regional governments powers to make decisions on lockdowns (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the St Petersburg Politics think tank, told the Vedomosti newspaper that the Moscow government was sending mixed messages that governors find hard to decipher — wanting a victory over the virus while also encouraging easing of the lockdown.

Fractures are also evident in the US, where about half of the 50 states are easing their shutdowns, to the alarm of public health officials.

Many states have not put in place the robust testing and contact tracing that experts believe is necessary to detect and contain new outbreaks.

And many governors have pressed ahead with reopening before their states have met one of the key benchmarks in the administration’s guidelines for reopening — a 14-day downward trajectory in new infections.

“If we relax these measures without having the proper public health safeguards in place, we can expect many more cases and, unfortunately, more deaths,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.

Researchers recently doubled their projection of deaths in the US to about 134,000 through early August. So far the US has recorded over 70,000 deaths and 1.2 million confirmed infections.

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 3.6 million people and killed over a quarter of a million, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, which experts agree understates the dimensions of the pandemic because of limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by some governments.

Europe and North America are looking nervously to Asian nations that are well on the way to reopening.

China, where the virus emerged late last year, reported just two new cases on Thursday, both from overseas, and said the whole country now is at low risk of further infections after confirming no new deaths from Covid-19 in more than three weeks.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>China is now said to be a low risk (Ng Han Guan/AP)</figcaption>
China is now said to be a low risk (Ng Han Guan/AP)

China also fired back against claims by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that there is “enormous evidence” that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying accused Mr Pompeo of “making up lies and covering up a lie by fabricating more lies”.

Strict social distancing also appears to have vanquished the outbreak in New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined plans for further relaxing lockdown rules, with a decision coming perhaps next week.

New Zealand would keep its borders shut, restrict gatherings to 100 people or fewer and hold professional sports events without spectators. Masks and other precautions would be required as restaurants and schools reopen, she said. But Ms Ardern called for vigilance.

“We think of ourselves as halfway down Everest,” Ms Ardern said. “I think it’s clear that no one wants to hike back up that peak.”

Source: http://feeds.breakingnews.ie/~r/bnworld/~3/PLxny4-jWEo/countries-split-over-easing-of-coronavirus-lockdowns-998188.html