Coronavirus deaths drop significantly in Europe; Britain cautious in reopening

A cyclist in a protective mask rides in the deserted Mall in London, Britain, on Sunday. Photo by Will Oliver/EPA-EFE

May 10 (UPI) — Despite a dramatic decline in the number of deaths from coronavirus in Europe, the region is generally taking a slow approach in easing restrictions, including in Britain where the pandemic has not subsided as much.

On Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced “cautious steps” to curb the stay-at-home lockdown, including allowing some people to return to work Monday and for “more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise” starting Wednesday. But he warned, “if there are outbreaks, if there are problems, we will not hesitate to put on the brakes.”

Britain’s death toll is finally starting to go down. On Sunday, Britain announced 268 deaths, down from 346 more Saturday, 626 Friday and a record 1,172 on April 4.

Last week the kingdom surpassed Italy, which at one time was the world epicenter, for second place behind the United States, which passed 80,000 Saturday.

Among the 282,000 worldwide killed by the outbreak, 152,724 were in Europe. But 959 deaths were reported so far Sunday, including Italy with 165 from a high of 919 on March 27, according to tracking by Worldometers.info.

Britain, with 31,587 fatalities linked to the disease, is 1,192 deaths ahead of Italy. No. 4 Spain on Sunday announced 143 deaths after a high of 961 on April 2. And No. 5 France added 70 deaths, a fraction of the high of 1,438 on April 15.

Three European nations in the top 10 reported double-digit increases: No. 7 Belgium with 75, No. 8 Germany with 8 and No. 10 Netherlands with 18.

Because of continued trouble signs, Britain’s government is taking a more cautious approach in easing the lockdown, which has been in effect since March 23. The slogan “stay home” is being replaced by “stay alert.”

“We have been through the initial peak — but it is coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous,” said Johnson, who contracted coronavirus and was hospitalized. “We have a route, and we have a plan, and everyone in government has the all-consuming pressure and challenge to save lives, restore livelihoods and gradually restore the freedoms that we need. But in the end this is a plan that everyone must make work.”

He said Britain can only move forward “unless we satisfy the five tests.” They are sustained falls in the death rate, considerable falls in the rate of infection, dealing with challenges in getting enough protective supplies to the people who need it and make sure to “survey any measures we take do not force the reproduction rate of the disease.”

He said decisions will be based on a new COVID-19 alert system to help keep the rate of infection low. There are five levels with the country moving from 4 to 3.

Johnson said people must continue to work at home if possible and to maintain social distancing.

By June, the prime minister said “we believe we may be in a position to begin the phased reopening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages, beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6.”

By July, Johnson said he hopes to re-open at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places.

And Britain will “soon” require a 14-day quarantine for people flying into the country, including from other European nations, Johnson said.

In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he may take steps to further ease the nation’s lockdown earlier than planned.

“We’re gathering the data from the latest monitoring and with the experts we’re defining clear safety rules for workers and customers,” Conte said. “If the situation remains under control on the epidemiological level, we’ll be able to agree some earlier moves with the regions.”

Italy has been on lockdown since March 9 with the hard-hit northern region earlier having the restrictions.

On Monday, Italy partially eased the lockdown, allowing manufacturing and construction companies to restart. Shops are scheduled to on May 18 with bars, restaurants and barbers due to begin operating again on June 1.

Spain is slowly easing restrictions. Starting Monday, about half of the nation that has met health and epidemiological criteria will have small shops and outdoor bar and restaurant terraces open for the first time since March 14. Groups of up to 10 people will also be allowed to meet.

But Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, Granada and Malaga will remain under the current lockdown conditions for at least another week, Spain’s minister of health announced Friday night.

And France will begin a “gradual” easing of its lockdown measures, including French residents no longer have to fill out a form to leave the house. Outdoor activities will no longer be subject to one-hour limits, including some beaches.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said 80 percent to 85 percent of primary schools will reopen as soon as Tuesday. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said “all businesses except caf├ęs, bars and restaurants will reopen.”

Germany, which has been successful with mass testing and strong lockdown restrictions, kept the death toll far lower than in other European countries. The nation has only 90 deaths per million, compared with 503 in Italy, 465 in Britain, 403 in France and 242 in the United States.

All shops are allowed to reopen and students will gradually return to class. Germany’s top football league, Bundesliga, will restart by next weekend.

Sweden, which has been doing “herd immunity,” reported 5 more deaths after 45 Saturday for 3,225 and 401 more cases. Neighboring Norway reported no deaths to stay at 219 and 3 more cases.

In Russia, the number of cases continued to skyrocket, including 11,012 Sunday for a total of 209,916, fifth in the world behind the United States, Spain, Britain and Italy. However, only 88 more deaths were reported for a total of 1,915, 17th in the world.

The pandemic has largely subsided in Asia, where only 320 deaths of a total of 22,171 were reported Sunday.

But China and South Korea have seen a spike in cases.

The China Health Commission reported 14 new confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday, the highest number since April 18, including the first in five weeks in the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak was first detected late last year. The nation has not reported a death since April 26. The number of cases is 82,901 and the deaths are 4,663, 11th in the world.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 34 new infections, the highest since April 9 when 39 cases were reported after a small outbreak emerged at nightclubs. Authorities temporarily closed all nightly entertainment facilities around the capital. The nation had planned to reopen schools in stages starting from Wednesday this week as it had planned.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun instructed officials to find an estimated 1,510 people who visited clubs in Itaewon last week and test them.

Korea, with 256 deaths, reported no new ones on Saturday and Sunday, and only eight since May 1.

Japan announced 17 more deaths Saturday for a total of 607 as well as only 88 new cases, the lowest since March 30. The total number of cases is 10,874.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has extended the state of emergency through the end of May.

Outside the Far East, India reported the most deaths in Asia with 111 to rise to 2,212. Iran remains in ninth place in the world with 51 more deaths reported.

In South American, the pandemic has been raging in Brazil.

The nation announced 664 deaths Saturday after a record 802 more Friday. Brazil has surged from 7,025 to 10,656 deaths in one week for sixth place, about 16,000 behind No. 5 France.

And cases have been exploding to 156,061 with an increase of 10,169 Saturday, third in the world behind Russia and the United States, which has 1.3 million, about one third of the 4 million.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro opposed restrictions and has disdained social distancing, describing it as a “neurosis.” He took a jet ski to a floating barbecue Saturday.

He scrapped plans for a barbecue in which he said he would invite 1,300 people. Opponents called it his “barbecue of death.”

In South America, all but 15,392 of the deaths are in Brazil. The second most is Ecuador with 2,217 and 410 more Sunday after 13 Saturday. Sometimes the nation reports a big jump in deaths.

The outbreak has been minimal in Oceania, where the death count stands at 97 in Australia and 21 in New Zealand. The last fatalities in both nations were announced on May 6 — one each.=

Police in Melbourne arrested 10 people, including two protest organizers, outside the Parliament House during a planned protest against Australia’s coronavirus response efforts in direct contravention of the chief health officer’s current directives” regarding large gatherings and social distancing, according to a statement obtained by CNN from Victoria Police.

In Africa, 2,232 deaths have been reported through Saturday, including an additional 71. Egypt leads with 514, followed by Algeria.

But the World Health Organization on Friday warned that as many as 190,000 people in the continent could die in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic if crucial containment measures fail.

“It likely will smolder in transmission hot spots,” WHA Africa head Matshidiso Moeti.

In North America, all but about 9,000 deaths are in the United States.

Mexico announced 199 deaths for a total of 3,160 and Canada reported 124 fatalities Saturday for 4,693.

The borders with the United States have been closed.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to shut the border down to non-essential travel in March and extended that order until the end of May last month.

Adrian Dix, who is British Columbia’s health minister, said Canada is “not ready” to accept visitors going back and forth, during an interview Sunday on The West Block.

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