PARIS (AP) – France and Spain, two of the hardest hit countries in the coronavirus pandemic, compiled separate roadmaps Tuesday to lift their locks, while signs emerged that the virus was almost wiped out in New Zealand and Australia.
But on the other side of the world, Brazil is emerging as a new hotspot for infection. And new doubts arise about whether Japan will be able to host the Summer Olympics which has been postponed next year without developing vaccines.
The key question is when to reopen soaring schools around the world when countries try to restart their devastated economy.
Although coronavirus seems to affect children far more seriously than adults, many officials, teachers and parents are worried about the health risks that can be posed by opening schools. Some pointed out the difficulty in ensuring that children remained at social distance and washed their hands frequently, and health risks for teachers.
But many parents will struggle to return to work without an open school, hampering efforts to fight the deep economic downturn in the world.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron wants schools to reopen on May 11, but teachers, parents and some mayors raise alarms. The government says parents can decide whether to send their children back to class and will release more details Tuesday night.
Joel Wilmotte is among a growing number of French mayors who refuse to reopen their schools, at least for now.
“I am not against reopening schools,” he said on the northern Hautmont city Facebook page.
But he listed seven reasons why he was not prepared to do so, including incomplete teachers and cleaning staff and a poll showing that most French parents opposed the reopening of schools. So he closed six schools in his city “until further notice.”
Greece, which has managed to keep its coronavirus mortality rate low at 136 people, also released more details on Tuesday about reducing its locking but schools remain a complicated topic.
Schools will be reopened “gradually, with conditions” and will be reviewed continuously, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Health coronavirus, specialist in infectious disease Sotiris Tsiodras. No opening date has been set yet.
Scientists agree children are less at risk of contracting the virus and seem to transmit it less than adults, said Tsiodras.
The devastated Italy, however, kept schools closed until September. That is what makes parents in a difficult position to return to work without access to their child’s caregivers: grandparents, who are now considered forbidden because they are the most vulnerable to viruses.
Emer McCarthy, who works in the Vatican’s child protection office, tweeted that Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had discussed locking out “for everyone except for Italian children. Incredible. There was no mention of schools, childcare options, no. But football is yes. #ChildrenNotSeenNotHeard. “
In China, where the pandemic began, schools began to open on Monday, but only for seniors at the middle and middle school level who were preparing for exams. The class size is cut no more than 30.
The number of new cases every day in China has fallen to a single figure, but the authorities remain wary of the possibility of a second wave of infection.
In the United States, which has the highest mortality rate in the world of more than 56,000, President Donald Trump said countries must “seriously consider” reopening their public schools before the end of the academic year, although dozens have said it is not safe for students to return until summer or fall.
“Some of you might start thinking about opening a school, because many people want to have a school opening,” Trump said. “Young people have done very well in this disaster.”
Trump also acknowledged the number of virus deaths could reach 70,000 in the US, after citing 60,000 in recent months.
The number of confirmed infections worldwide has risen to more than 3 million and the number of confirmed deaths has reached 211,000, according to calculations by Johns Hopkins University. The actual number of pandemics is likely to be much higher because of limited testing, minor cases that have been missed, deficiencies in counting the dead and governments who might try to hide the extent of their outbreaks.
Italy, Spain, France and the UK each contributed more than 21,000 virus-related deaths.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro insisted that COVID-19 was only a “small flu” and said there was no need for a type of restriction that slowed the spread of infection elsewhere.
Brazil, the most populous country in Latin America with 211 million people, has reported 4,600 deaths and 67,000 confirmed infections. But the true number is believed to be much higher given the lack of tests and many people who have not sought hospital treatment.
Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major Brazilian cities have warned their hospital system is on the verge of collapse or too overwhelmed to take more patients. There are also signs that more and more Brazilian victims have died at home.
“We have all the conditions here for a pandemic to be far more serious,” said Paulo Brandão, a virus expert at the University of Sao Paulo.
Bolsonaro said Brazilians need to continue their lives to prevent an economic crisis, but most state governors have implemented restrictions to keep people home and slow the spread of the virus.
New Zealand, on the other hand, reported only three new infections Tuesday. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said people had done extraordinary work in breaking the chain of transmission of the virus, but warned they needed to remain vigilant.
“Maybe there is still burning ash out there, and they have the potential to become a fire again, if we give them a chance,” he said, quoting a microbiologist.
The government is loosening its key, which has closed schools and most businesses. Surfers hit the waves at dawn on Tuesday, the builder returned to the construction site and the barista started the espresso machine.
In Australia, hundreds of people returned to the waters after Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach reopened for swimmers and surfers. However, people can only use the beach during the day, cannot linger and are limited to ensure social distance. Australia has reported only 83 deaths from the virus, less than the number of victims reported by more than 25 U.S. states.
But this virus is still a long-term enemy. The president of the Japan Medical Association, Yoshitake Yokokura, said he thought it would be difficult to hold the Tokyo Summer Olympics which was rescheduled even in 2021 without an effective coronavirus vaccine.
Japan and the International Olympic Committee agreed to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics until July 2021 because of a pandemic. Japan has been in a state of emergency for a month amid increasing infections and medical workers say hospitals are too burdened.
Becatoros reports from Athens, Greece and Perry from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
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