Leaders search for optimism amid coronavirus pandemic

Leaders search for optimism amid pandemic

BERLIN (AP) — As families in the U.S. and elsewhere marked Mother’s Day in a time of social distancing and isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, world leaders projected optimism they could loosen lockdowns while controlling a potential second wave of infections.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted the American economy would rebound in the second half of this year from unemployment rates that rival the Great Depression. Another 3.2 million U.S. workers applied for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total over the last seven weeks to 33.5 million.

“I think you’re going to see a bounce-back from a low standpoint,” said Mnuchin, speaking on “Fox News Sunday.”

But the director of the University of Washington institute that created a White House-endorsed coronavirus model said states’ moves to reopen businesses “will translate into more cases and deaths in 10 days from now.” Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said states where cases and deaths are going up more than expected include Illinois, Arizona, Florida and California.

Across Europe, many nations were easing lockdowns even as they prepared to clamp down on any new infections.

Germany, which managed to push new infections below 1,000 daily before deciding to loosen restrictions, has seen regional spikes in cases linked to slaughterhouses and nursing homes. Health officials say the number of people each confirmed coronavirus patient infects rose above 1 again, reflecting a renewed increase in cases. The number must be below 1 for outbreaks to decline.

German officials expressed concerns about the growing number of large demonstrations, including one in the southwestern city of Stuttgart that drew thousands. Police in Berlin stepped in Saturday after hundreds of people failed to respect social distancing measures at anti-lockdown rallies.

Later Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to announce a 14-day quarantine for all travelers coming to the U.K., except those from Ireland, as he reveals a “road map” for the country that has the most official virus deaths in Europe at over 31,600. His Conservative government was criticized for being slow to react to the pandemic, but after falling ill with the virus himself, Johnson has taken a tougher line.

Aviation and travel industry groups already have protested the expected measures as devastating to the British economy.

France, which has a similar number of infections as Germany but a far higher death toll at over 26,300, is letting some younger students go back to school Monday after almost two months out. Attendance won’t be compulsory right away, allowing parents to decide whether it’s safe or not.

With tourism a major industry in Italy, hotel owners, tour guides, beach resorts and others who depend heavily on the summer season are pressing to know when citizens can travel across the country. In a newspaper interview, Premier Giuseppe Conte promised that the restriction on inter-regional movement would be lifted, but only after authorities better determine how the virus outbreak evolves.

Residents in some Spanish regions will be able to enjoy limited seating at bars, restaurants and other public places Monday, but Madrid and Barcelona, the country’s largest cities, will remain shut down. Spain reported 143 new deaths from the virus, the lowest daily increase since March 19.

Russia, in contrast, is still reporting rising infections. Figures on Sunday recorded 11,012 new cases, the highest one-day tally yet, for a total of nearly 210,000 cases and 1,915 reported deaths. Russian officials attribute the sharp rise in part to increased testing, but health experts say Russia’s coronavirus data has been significantly under-reported.

China reported 14 new cases Sunday, its first double-digit rise in 10 days. Eleven of 12 domestic infections were in the northeastern province of Jilin, prompting authorities to raise the threat level in one of its counties, Shulan, to high risk, just days after downgrading all regions to low risk.

Authorities said the Shulan outbreak originated with a 45-year-old woman who had no recent travel or exposure history but spread it to her husband, three sisters and other relatives. Train services in the county were suspended.

“Epidemic control and prevention is a serious and complicated matter, and local authorities should never be overly optimistic, war-weary or off-guard,” said Jilin Communist Party secretary Bayin Chaolu.

Jilin also shares a border with North Korea, which insists it has no virus cases, much to the disbelief of international health authorities.

South Korea reported 34 more cases as new infections linked to nightclubs threaten its hard-won gains against the virus. It was the first time that South Korea’s daily infections were above 30 in about a month.

The U.S. has seen 1.3 million infections and nearly 80,000 deaths — the most in the world by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. debate over easing lockdowns has polarized along partisan lines as over 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment and business activity has ground to a halt.

Many families celebrated Mother’s Day weekend from afar, delaying or changing their normal plans. A nursing home in Miami held a Mother’s Day parade on Saturday, with children and grandchildren driving past the windows and waving at loved ones inside. Others grieved for those victims of the virus that has caused particular suffering for the elderly and previously sick.

Matilda Cuomo, the mother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, called into her son’s daily briefing so he and his three daughters could wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

“I am so blessed as many mothers today are,” she said.

Andrew Cuomo, whose state is the deadliest hot spot for the virus in the U.S., said he looked forward to getting back to normal. “We’re going to have fun, and then you can spend more time with me. I know I am your favorite,” he said in a playful dig at his siblings.

Cuomo has been criticized by some for not doing enough to counter the surge of deaths in nursing homes, where about 5,300 residents have died. He announced Sunday that all nursing home staff in New York will have to undergo COVID-19 tests twice a week.

Three members of the White House coronavirus task force, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, placed themselves in quarantine after coming in contact with someone who tested positive.

Worldwide, 4 million people have been reported infected and nearly 280,000 have died, over half of them in Europe, according to Johns Hopkins.

 

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