BERLIN (AP) – As the Easter holidays approach, world leaders and health officials earnestly warn that the hard-earned benefits in the fight against the corona virus should not be jeopardized by loosening social distance.
The surge in deaths in Britain and New York and the surge in new infections reported in Japan and in densely populated Indian cities make it clear that the battle is far from over.
“We are leveling the curve because we are very strict about social distance,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “But this is not the time to be complacent. This is not the time to do things differently from what we have done.”
The United States is by far the most confirmed case, with more than 430,000 people infected – three times the size of the next three countries. The State of New York on Wednesday recorded the highest one-day increase in deaths, 779, with a total of nearly 6,300 deaths. New York City has more than 40% of total U.S. deaths. around 15,000.
In Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn warned that a positive trend in reducing new infections “must be cemented.”
“So it’s true to remain consistent throughout Easter,” he told the Handelsblatt newspaper on Thursday. “Even if it’s difficult in this weather, we have to stay home and refrain from family visits so the infection curve doesn’t rise again.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also stressed that people should not travel as usual, saying “even a short trip inside Germany, to the coast or mountains or relatives, cannot take place during Easter this year.”
In New Zealand, police warned people not to go to their holiday homes during Easter or they would risk being arrested.
“It’s simple – traveling to and from various cities and towns risks spreading COVID-19, and endangering lives,” police said.
Lithuania restricted public movements and forced the closure of major cities during Easter to prevent further spread of infection in the predominantly Catholic country.
Greece also tightened restrictions ahead of next week’s Orthodox Easter celebrations, increased police roadblocks along highways and secondary roads, doubled fines for locking violations and banned inter-island travel.
Swiss police are trying to prevent drivers from going to the Italian-speaking Ticino region, the only part of Switzerland in the southern Alps and one of the worst-hit pandemics. Barriers are being prepared near the northern entrance of the Gotthard tunnel to separate potential visitors.
Anthony Fauci, a top contagious disease expert in the United States, said the Trump administration had worked on plans to finally reopen the country amid evidence that social distance worked. But he said this was not the time to reduce such actions.
“Keep your feet on the accelerator because this is what will get us through this,” he said.
Fauci said the coronavirus pandemic would demand permanent changes in people’s behavior until the vaccine was discovered and developed. He said everyone now had to wash their hands constantly and sick children and adults should not go to school or work.
“Nobody ever shakes hands again,” he said, smiling. “I mean, that sounds crazy, but that’s how it should be until we reach the point where we know the population is protected (with vaccines).”
In a potentially alarming development in South Korea, at least 74 people diagnosed as having recovered from the corona virus were only tested positive for the second time after they were released from hospital. Health authorities are testing virus samples and their serum to determine whether patients can re-infect others.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johonson spent the third night in intensive care due to COVID-19 infection. On Wednesday night, authorities said he was better and sat on the bed. The country recorded the highest death rate on Wednesday, with 938 virus-related deaths, and feared it would break the record again on Thursday.
Japan reported more than 500 new cases for the first time Thursday, a worrying increase because it has the world’s oldest population and COVID-19 can be very serious in the elderly.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared a state of emergency – but not closure – in Tokyo and six other prefectures earlier this week. Companies in the world’s third-largest economy are slow to embrace working from home and Abe seems to be worried about keeping the economy running. Many passengers were jammed on the streets of Tokyo as usual on Thursday.
But Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who has outlined plans to close business harder than Abe, said the city was in a dire situation with new cases surging and could not delay the closure of unnecessary businesses for another two weeks.
“The spread of infection is so fast in Tokyo that we can’t wait that long,” he said.
India, which has 1.3 billion people locked up until next week, has closed dozens of hotspots in and around New Delhi, the capital. This will supply food and medicine to residents but allows them to leave. The number of confirmed cases exceeds 5,000, with 166 deaths.
Worldwide, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased to nearly 1.5 million, with nearly 90,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The actual number is almost certainly much higher, due to limited testing, different rules for counting dead people and the efforts of some governments to hide the extent of spread in their countries.
For the most part, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some older and weaker adults, it can cause pneumonia and death. Nearly 330,000 people have recovered worldwide.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said he would speak to leaders in the African-American community who were worried about the disproportionate impact of the virus. Fauci acknowledged that historical differences in health care had placed African Americans at risk of disease which made them more vulnerable in the outbreak.
Meanwhile, new infections and hospitalizations have abated in the hard hit Italy and Spain, which together have more than 32,000 deaths.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce soon how long the country’s locking will continue. In Spain, where nearly 15,000 people were killed, Budget Minister María Jesús Montero said “normal life” would gradually return from April 26 but warned it would be a staggered easing.
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