Spain, Austria ease lockdowns but WHO warns coronavirus ‘has not peaked’

Spain and Austria allowed partial returns to work on Tuesday but Britain, France and India extended coronavirus lockdowns to try to rein in the most serious pandemic in a century which the World Health Organization said had “certainly” not peaked.

Nearly 2 million people globally have been infected and more than 119,200 have died, according to a Reuters tally of official figures. The epicentre has moved from China, where the virus first emerged in December, to the United States which now has the highest death toll at 23,568.

World leaders, in considering easing curbs on movement, have to balance the risks to health and the economy, as the lockdowns strangled supply lines, especially in China, and brought economic activity to a virtual halt.

The World Health Organization said the number of new cases was easing in some parts of Europe, including Italy and Spain, but outbreaks were growing in Britain and Turkey.

“The overall world outbreak, 90 percent of cases are coming from Europe and the United States of America. So we are certainly not seeing the peak yet,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a briefing in Geneva.

In Spain, restrictions have helped to slow a spiralling death rate that reached its peak in early April.

The overnight death toll from the coronavirus rose to 567 on Tuesday from 517 a day earlier, but the country reported its lowest increase in new cases since March 18. Total deaths climbed to 18,056.

But some Spanish workers expressed concern that the relaxation of restrictions could trigger a new surge.

“I would have preferred to wait 15 more days confined to home or at least one more week and then come back,” said Carlos Mogorron, a 27-year-old engineer from Extremadura in western Spain.

Some activities, including construction and manufacturing, were allowed to restart. Shops, bars and public spaces are to stay closed until at least April 26.

Italy, which has the world’s second highest death toll of 20,465, maintained some tight restrictions on movement. Denmark, one of the first European countries to shut down, will reopen day care centres and schools for children in first to fifth grade on April 15.

Thousands of shops across Austria were reopening on Tuesday, but the government said it was “not out of the woods” yet.

Austria acted early in its outbreak to close schools, bars, theatres, restaurants, non-essential shops and other gathering places about four weeks ago. It has told the public to stay home and work from there if possible.

Austria has reported 368 deaths in total, fewer than some larger European countries have been suffering each day. The daily increase in confirmed cases is in low single digits in percentage terms and hospitalisations have stabilised.

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