BEIJING: Governments around the world are wrestling with when and how to lift economically painful virus-control measures as unemployment rises and rent payments come due.
Many places have mandated strict restrictions on movement to try to stop the spread of a new coronavirus that has infected more than 2.2 million people and for which there is no vaccine.
The debate in the US has taken on political tones. Republican President Donald Trump urged supporters to “LIBERATE” three states led by Democratic governors, tweeting the kind of rhetoric some have used to demand an end to stay-at-home orders that have thrown millions out of work.
Most governments remain cautious, even as the economic toll rises. Public health experts warn that easing shutdowns must be accompanied by wider testing and tracing of infected people to keep the virus from coming back.
South Korea's Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Saturday that new guidelines could be issued soon that officials have said would allow people to engage in “certain levels of economic and social activity.”
America's largest state, California, lost nearly 100,000 jobs in March. “We are now in a pandemic-induced recession,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. Texas and Florida, which both have Republican governors, took first steps toward easing restrictions.
Top leaders of China's ruling Communist Party called for deficit spending and a more flexible monetary policy after the economy shrunk 6.8 percent in the first three months of the year.
The outbreak has killed more than 150,000 people worldwide, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally based on figures supplied by government health authorities around the globe. The number all but certainly underestimates the actual toll.
Authorities said that almost everywhere, thousands have died with COVID-19 symptoms — many in nursing homes — without being tested for the virus, and have thus gone uncounted. In Britain, with an official count of about 14,600 dead, the country’s statistics agency said the actual number could be around 15% higher.
An Associated Press tally from news media reports and state health departments indicates 6,912 US deaths have been linked to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The US government has not been releasing a count.
China reported Saturday a nearly 40% increase in its death toll to 4,632 victims, reflecting a major upwards revision made the previous day by authorities in Wuhan, the nation’s hardest-hit city.
The official death toll in the US has topped 35,000, with more than 700,000 confirmed infections.
Protesters fed up with the economy-strangling restrictions have taken to the streets in several US states. In Idaho, where the governor is a Republican, scores of protesters not wearing masks stood shoulder-to-shoulder Friday. Some carried signs claiming the coronavirus is a hoax.
“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, " Trump said in a tweet-storm in which he also lashed out at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, for criticizing the federal response. Cuomo “should spend more time ‘doing’ and less time ‘complaining,’” the president said.
Governors of both parties suggested they would move carefully, with some warning that they can’t do it without help from the federal government to expand testing for the virus.
“The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies even while his own administration says the virus is real and is deadly,” Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington state, said.
Responding to pleas from governors for help in ramping up testing, Trump put the burden back on them: “The States have to step up their TESTING!”
The American president, who has repeatedly expressed his desire to see businesses reopen quickly, had his health team lead an extensive briefing outlining that adequate testing capacity exists to get states through the first phase of White House guidelines on how they should reopen.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said stores could begin selling curbside, nonessential surgery could resume and state parks could reopen. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said municipalities could reopen beaches and parks if they could do so safely.
But in Iowa, more than a dozen elected officials implored Tyson Fresh Meats to close a pork processing plant, saying the virus is spreading among workers and endangering employees and the surrounding community.
Company spokeswoman Liz Croston said worker temperatures are taken before entering the plant, masks are required and cleaning has been increased as has distancing between workers. She said the company is focused on protecting workers and “continuing to fulfill our critical role of feeding families in this community and around the nation, while providing market continuity for hundreds of area hog farmers."
In Hawaii, Gov. David Ige ordered a moratorium on evictions of people from their homes for failure to pay rent in a state where more than one-third of the labor force has applied for unemployment benefits. Schools will remain closed through the summer, officials said, with plans undecided for the next school year.