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Nations ease some virus restrictions yet public still wary

Coronavirus

BERLIN (AP) — Small shops reopened Wednesday in Berlin as a few nations began easing coronavirus restrictions to restart their economies, but trepidation expressed by some workers and customers indicated a return to normality is still a long way off.

Restrictions were also being eased in Denmark and Austria. In France, long lines built up outside the few McDonald’s drive-thrus that started serving customers again. In the U.S., some states were relaxing restrictions amid vocal protests by those demanding to return to work.

Although some former virus hot spots like Italy, Spain, China and New York have seen a reduction in their daily death tolls and new hospitalizations, other areas are facing a resurgence of the new coronavirus. Singapore, once a model of coronavirus tracking and prevention, saw an explosion of new cases and announced Wednesday it would extend its lockdown into June.

There has been growing impatience over virus-related shutdowns that have seen tens of millions of people lose their jobs. But even in areas where businesses were allowed to open, some were hesitant.

In Savannah, Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp announced that gyms and salons can reopen this week, gym owner Mark Lebos said it would be professional negligence to do so right now.

“We are not going to be a vector of death and suffering,” he said.

Ronique Holloway, who runs a hair salon in Smyrna, Georgia, said she would wait until May 1 to reopen and was still nervous about contracting the virus.

“We’re still in a small, closed place,” the 48-year-old said. “You’re staring at somebody right in their face when you shampoo it. Heaven forbid if you talk.”

She was only seeing one client at a time even before she was forced to shut down.

The pandemic has infected over 2.5 million people and killed more than 177,000 around the world, including more than 45,000 in the U.S., according to a tally Johns Hopkins University. Health authorities have warned the crisis is far from over and that relaxing stay-at-home orders too quickly could enable the virus to come surging back.

Economic damage mounted as oil prices suffered an epic collapse and stocks registered their worst loss in weeks Tuesday on Wall Street. Asia markets continued their slide on Wednesday.

In the United States, the Senate approved nearly $500 billion in coronavirus aid for businesses, hospitals and testing after a deal was reached between Congress and the White House. President Donald Trump urged House members to quickly pass the measure.

Spain, one of the world’s worst-hit countries, was grappling with how to allow children out of their homes for the first time in nearly six weeks. The country’s death toll reached 21,717, behind only the United States and Italy, after 435 more deaths were reported Wednesday. Spain has over 208,000 confirmed infections.

Both numbers reflect the plateauing of the nation’s outbreak over recent days as a result of Spain’s strict home confinement rules. Yielding to pressure from parents, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is allowing children to go outside again beginning Monday.

In another sign that Spain’s health crisis is becoming more manageable, a large makeshift morgue in a Madrid ice rink is closing as the daily toll drops under 500 deaths from a high of 950 three weeks ago.

Singapore, which has been praised for its swift response and meticulous tracing of contacts in the early stage of the outbreak, was grappling with an explosion of cases in foreign worker dorms that were largely overlooked earlier. The tiny city-state’s infections surged to 10,141 after it reported 1,016 new cases Wednesday, maintaining its position as the worst-hit nation in Southeast Asia.

In Pakistan, doctors issued a letter calling on the country’s religious clerics and prime minister to reverse a decision to leave mosques open during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, warning it could result in an explosion of COVID-19 cases. Large gatherings will only increase infections and overwhelm the health care system that has less than 3,000 acute care beds for a population of 220 million, said Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, chief of the Pakistan Medical Association.

Pakistan recorded its largest 24-hour increase of more than 700 new cases Tuesday and saw another 533 cases Wednesday, bringing the total to 9,749 infections and 209 deaths.

India partially eased one of the world’s strictest lockdowns this week, but public health officials fear a surge in cases. The country is planning to use wristbands fitted with a contact-tracing app, Arogya Setu, to help people identify their risk of infection.

The wristband has been envisioned as a way of countering the drain of manpower in trying to track the contacts of corona patients among the country’s 1.3 billion people. Officials said it is likely to be rolled out in May.

In the U.S., some states, including Tennessee, West Virginia and Colorado, announced plans to begin reopening in stages in the coming days. Sunbathers quickly flocked to the sand after some South Carolina beaches reopened with the governor’s backing.

Yet political tensions over coronavirus restrictions showed no signs of easing.

Some sheriffs in Washington state, Michigan and Wisconsin said they won’t enforce stay-at-home orders. Angry protesters demanding the lifting of restrictions marched in Alabama, North Carolina and Missouri with signs like “Enough is enough.” And Wisconsin Republicans asked the state’s high court to block an extension of the stay-at-home order there.

Numerous governors and local leaders have said that before they can relax social distancing restrictions, they need help from Washington to expand testing to help keep the virus in check.

During an online ceremony to donate masks, ventilators and other medical supplies to hard-hit New York, Chinese Consul-General Huang Ping indirectly appealed to Trump to tone down his recent rhetoric against the Asian country where the virus first emerged late last year.

After weeks of elaborate praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s response to the pandemic, Trump has turned to blaming China and halting U.S. contributions to the World Health Organization, accusing it of parroting misinformation from Beijing.

“This is not the time for finger-pointing,“ Huang said. “This is the time for solidarity, collaboration, cooperation and mutual support.”

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Becatoros reported from Athens, Greece and Brumback from Atlanta. AP journalists worldwide contributed to this report.

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