Spain now eases lockdown as hopes of pandemic peak rise
Spain reopened parts of its coronavirus-stricken economy on Monday as slowing death tolls in some of the worst-hit countries boosted hopes the curve may be starting to flatten and lockdown restrictions could soon be eased.
Watched by a world that is keen to temper a brutal pandemic-induced recession, some Spanish factory and construction staff returned to work within strict safety guidelines.
European countries have seen steep rises in cases and deaths, but slowing infection rates are raising hopes that strict social distancing measures are curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
Italy has the highest toll outside the US, with nearly 20,000 deaths so far, but recent data suggests the infection rate is slowing. Spain’s death toll is not far behind, on 17,500—the third-highest of any country.
There are now nearly 170,000 confirmed cases in Spain, but the rate of new cases is falling there as well.
However China, where the virus originated late last year, recorded its highest number of infections in weeks—most of them imported cases—as warnings echoed that lifting restrictions too early could unleash a second wave of Covid-19.
French President Emmanuel Macron was set to warn the nation that its lockdown would stay in place for several more weeks at least, while outlining steps for recovery.
More than half of the planet’s population is staying home as part of efforts to stem the spread of the virus, which has now killed more than 116,000 people and infected close to 1.9 million, overwhelming healthcare systems and crippling the world economy.
Yet there is cautious optimism the virus may have reached its peak. Spain’s death toll fell again on Monday with 517 fatalities, plus the lowest daily figure of new confirmed infections since March 20.
France and the US also saw a drop in daily Covid-19 deaths, along with Italy which reported its lowest fatalities in three weeks.
But Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned his country was “far from victory”, with the lockdown restrictions for the rest of the 47 million people still in place.
“We are all keen to go back out on the streets... but our desire is even greater to win the war and prevent a relapse,” he said.
In the US, now the world’s worst-hit nation with a fifth of all deaths and more than half a million confirmed cases, the government’s top infectious disease expert added to hopes the virus may have peaked.
Anthony Fauci said parts of the country could begin easing restrictions in May, but warned that the world’s biggest economy would not turn back on like a “light switch”.
Many of the world’s more than two billion Christians celebrated Easter Sunday from the confines of their homes, while Pope Francis delivered a livestream message about an “Easter of solitude” from a hauntingly empty Vatican.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was resting at his official country residence Chequers a day after being discharged following “a week in which the NHS has saved my life, no question”.
Britain’s death toll passed 10,000, with daily fatalities matching those previously seen in Italy and Spain.
The World Health Organisation has warned countries against lifting lockdown restrictions too early. -AFP