Spain reopened parts of its coronavirus-stricken economy on Monday as slowing death tolls in some of the worst-hit countries boosted hopes the outbreak may be peaking and lockdowns could soon be eased.
Watched by a world that wants to temper a brutal pandemic-induced recession, Spain allowed factory and construction staff to go back to work, while police handed out free masks on the metro.
But there were warnings that lifting curbs too soon could unleash a second wave of COVID-19, with China, where the virus emerged late last year, recording its highest number of cases in weeks — most of them imported.
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.
However Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned Sunday Spain was “far from victory”, with the rest of the nation’s 47 million people remaining under lockdown to avoid a relapse.
In the US — now the world’s worst-hit nation with a fifth of all deaths and more than half a million confirmed cases — the government’s top infectious disease expert added to hopes the virus may have peaked.
The World Health Organization has warned countries not to lift lockdown measures prematurely, amid fears of a downturn not seen since the Great Depression.
In China, where authorities appeared to have the virus under control last week, officials reported 108 new symptomatic cases Monday, the highest number of confirmed infections in a single day in over a month.
Imported cases accounted for most of the total, the National Health Commission said.
China only recently lifted the lockdown on the city of Wuhan where the virus first emerged in December.
The quarantine measures were later emulated by Italy in early March, followed by Spain, France and other nations around the world.
Moscow meanwhile tightened its virus lockdown by issuing digital travel permits, as Russia reported its highest daily rise in cases.
And in India, key industries warned of social unrest unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes concessions when he announces any extension Tuesday to a three-week lockdown.
It is not only humans under threat, with a major western Indian zoo bringing in social distancing for its big cats after a tiger in the United States caught the virus.
“We have decided to isolate them to avoid any kind of infection,” superintendent Bharatsinh Vihol said of the lions, tigers and leopards at the Kamala Nehru Zoological Garden in Gujarat state.
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