SEOUL: Declining rates of coronavirus infections and falling daily COVID-19 death tolls have emboldened governments around the world to ease lockdown measures and reopen their economies.
But in doing so, countries are also risking fresh outbreaks, with new cases emerging in South Korea, China, India, New Zealand and Germany in recent days.
Although widely praised for its handling of its initial outbreak, South Korea on Monday (May 11) scrambled to contain a new cluster, shutting all bars and clubs in the capital Seoul.
READ: South Korean COVID-19 patient went club-hopping in Seoul before testing positive, say authorities
In a speech to the nation on Sunday, President Moon Jae-in warned that “it’s not over until it’s over”, adding that the new cluster shows the virus can spread widely at any time.
Seoul is due to reopen schools on Wednesday but the city’s education superintendent has proposed delaying it by a week, Yonhap news agency reported.
China on Sunday reported its first infection in more than a month in Wuhan, where the outbreak first started late last year before going on to infect more than four million worldwide. The city lifted its lockdown a month ago.
In Japan, with the number of new cases on a downward trend for the past week, the government said on Monday it could could lift a state-of-emergency in several regions this week.
But it warned at the same time, the emergency could be reinstated if there were signs of a flareup after the lifting.
India’s massive train networks will gradually restart operations from Tuesday as the country eases a lockdown. Restrictions are due to be lifted on May 17, but authorities have reported record jumps in recent days.
A seven-week lockdown, one of the most severe in the world, has seen the number of active COVID-19 cases in New Zealand fall to just 70.
It has given Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government confidence to bring down the country’s restriction level by another notch – retail shops and restaurants can reopen from Thursday. Even so, caution remains, as Ardern warned “none of us can assume COVID is not with us”.
There was uncertainty in Germany too, with at least one district forced to re-impose restrictions after an outbreak at a meat processing plant. And even as the country loosened its lockdown restrictions, the latest German data also indicated the infection rate was rising again.
NOT TIME TO END LOCKDOWN: UK PM
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who himself spent a week in hospital with COVID-19, said on Sunday that lockdown measures had come “at a colossal cost to our way of life” but added it would be “madness” to squander the progress by moving too soon.
“This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week,” the 55-year-old said, but he unveiled a “conditional plan” to ease the measures in England in the months ahead.
But in France, Sunday’s COVID-19 death toll was at its lowest since early April. French shops and hair salons are due to reopen on Monday.
Likewise Spain’s daily fatalities have dropped below 200. More than half of its population will be able to gather in groups of up to 10 people on Monday, as their regions progress to Phase 1 of a four-step easing plan.
“We have already set a date for dinner on Wednesday, just 10 of us. I can’t wait to touch someone, to kiss and be kissed,” said 66-year-old Beatriz Gonzalez in the Spanish city of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.
Belgium and Greece are among other European nations set to ease lockdowns on Monday.
Canada reported a 2.2 per cent increase of its death toll to 4,728 on Sunday, one of the lowest daily increases since the outbreak started.
Several provinces are moving to gradually reopen businesses that were shut down to fight the outbreak, throwing millions out of work. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned on Saturday that if provinces acted too quickly, a second wave of the pandemic could send Canada “back into confinement this summer”.
Iran, the Middle East’s worst-hit country, has also relaxed its lockdown measures, and bazaars and shopping centres in the capital Tehran were bustling again after being nearly deserted for weeks.
But health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour warned the situation “should in no way be considered normal”, as one region recorded a spike in death rates and reimposed a lockdown.
And the resumption of league football in Europe was dealt a blow after confirmation of infection clusters among players in Spain, Germany and Portugal.
Football bosses in all three countries, however, insisted that season restarts planned for the coming weeks were still on track.