New York- New York’s coronavirus death toll hit the grim milestone of 10,000 on Monday, but its governor said the pandemic had passed its peak.
In Europe, hard-hit nations looked to ease the lockdowns that are threatening to unleash a global recession.
Spain offered a shred of hope as it allowed some factory and construction workers to go back to work, with the number of people dying there from Covid-19 beginning to slow after weeks of tough restrictions.
Italy and Britain also saw their death tolls fall, saying that the efforts of millions of their citizens to stay at home and ease the pressure on struggling health services could be finally flattening the curve of fatalities and infections.
But there were fresh warnings that lifting curbs too soon could unleash a second wave of coronavirus cases, with the World Health Organisation saying that only a vaccine would fully stop the spread of the disease.
Governments are facing increasing pressure to ease lockdown restrictions to keep economies from total collapse while ensuring citizens stay safe.
Since emerging in China late last year, the virus has killed more than 114,000 people worldwide, infected 1.8 million and forced more than half the planet’s population to stay at home.
‘Worst is over’
New York is America’s coronavirus epicentre, with its death toll of 10,000 accounting for nearly half of the 22,000 across the entire United States — itself the world’s worst-hit country with a fifth of all deaths.
The impact in New York state has been brutal, with unclaimed victims buried in unmarked mass graves and makeshift morgues set up for the dead.
But Governor Andrew Cuomo declared the “worst is over” in the state, even as he announced the grim new figure, adding that he was working on a plan to gradually reopen the economy.
“I believe we can now start on the path to normalcy,” Cuomo said.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he wants to end the restrictions in place across much of the country as soon as possible in order to revive the hammered economy.
He announced on Monday top oil producers could cut production by 20 million barrels per day, twice the reduction agreed upon between Opec members and Russia the previous day to prop up prices battered by the coronavirus crisis.
Cautious optimism that the lockdown measures are working is beginning to grow in some countries hardest hit by the pandemic.
As it began to reopen its economy on Monday, Spain said its death toll had fallen again with 517 fatalities, plus the lowest daily figure of new confirmed infections since March 20.
Spain’s `amazing’ mask handout
Police in Madrid handed out face masks to commuters at a train station where life appeared to be creeping back to normal as workers in protective gear wiped down turnstiles.
“It’s amazing that the government is doing this because either you can’t find them in shops or they’re very expensive,” said nurse Brenda Palacios, who took two masks.
But Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned Spain was “far from victory”, with the rest of the nation’s 47 million people remaining under lockdown to avoid a relapse.
In Italy, the second worst-hit country after the United States, the death toll topped 20,000 on Monday, but its number of critically ill patients dropped for the 10th successive day.
Italy will reopen some book shops and laundries on a trial basis on Tuesday, although it has officially extended its national lockdown until May 3.
The British government is due to decide later this week whether to extend its lockdown — but without Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is recuperating at his countryside retreat after saying his battle with coronavirus “could have gone either way”.
Britain recorded 717 deaths on Monday, a slight drop from the day before, taking the toll to over 11,000. Daily death tolls are often lower on Mondays as weekend fatalities have not been collected.
WHO vaccine warning
But the World Health Organisation warned that even the most careful easing of lockdowns was no substitute for a vaccine against coronavirus — a process that could take at least a year to 18 months.
“Ultimately, the development and delivery of a safe and effective vaccine will be needed to fully interrupt transmission,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual briefing from Geneva.
He added that coronavirus was 10 times deadlier than the 2009-10 swine flu outbreak.
Similar warnings will weigh heavily on decisions being made in other countries.
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