ATLANTA (AP) — Even with many former virus hotspots seeing a reduction in new deaths and hospitalizations, a flurry of cancellations of major events made it clear Wednesday that efforts to return to normal life could still be a long and dispiriting process.
In just the past day, the U.S. scrapped the national spelling bee in June, Spain called off the Running of the Bulls in July, and Germany canceled Oktoberfest five months away. Singapore, once a model of coronavirus tracking and prevention, saw an explosion of new cases and announced it would extend its lockdown into June.
Nevertheless there was growing impatience over virus-related shutdowns that have thrown tens of millions out of work, and more countries and U.S. states began taking steps to get back to business.
Business owners in the U.S. who got the go-ahead weighed whether to reopen, and some hesitated, in a sign that commerce won’t necessarily bounce back right away.
Mark Lebos, owner of Strong Gym in Savannah, Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp announced that gyms and salons can reopen this week, said Tuesday that it would be professional negligence to do so right now.
“We are not going to be a vector of death and suffering,” he said.
With deaths and infections still rising around the world, the push to reopen has set off warnings from health authorities that the crisis that has killed more than 177,000 people globally — including more than 45,000 in the U.S. — is far from over and that relaxing the stay-at-home orders too quickly could enable the virus to come surging back.
The 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.
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday 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.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that while some big businesses obtained access to government loans under an earlier aid package, its intent was to help mostly companies with 10 or fewer workers. He and the president said bigger businesses should return those funds.
Trump also said he will stop issuing certain immigration green cards for 60 days to limit competition for jobs and “protect American workers” already suffering in an economy devastated by the pandemic.
In Europe, Denmark, Austria, Spain and Germany began allowing some people back to work, including hairdressers, dentists and construction workers, and some stores were cleared to reopen or will soon get approval.
But in an indication that it will be a long time before life returns to normal, Spain canceled its Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, the more than 400-year-old event. It was also called off during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. was canceled. The competition has been held since 1925 and was last scrubbed during World War II.
Germany called off the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, which draws about 6 million visitors each year. It was previously canceled during the two world wars; during a period of hyperinflation in Germany in 1923; and twice because of cholera outbreaks in the 1800s.
Praised for its swift response and meticulous tracing of contacts in the early stage of the outbreak, Singapore was grappling with an explosion of cases in foreign worker dorms that were largely overlooked earlier.
The tiny city-state reported 1,111 new cases Tuesday to increase its total to 9,125, the most in Southeast Asia. It marked the second straight day of over 1,000 new cases.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said measures that shut down nonessential businesses and schools until May 4 would be extended to June 1 or until infections ease.
In Italy, Premier Giuseppe Conte confirmed that businesses can start reopening on May 4 but dashed any hopes of a full end to the country’s strict lockdown any time soon, saying: “A decision of that kind would be irresponsible.’’
In the U.S., some states, including Tennessee, West Virginia and Colorado, announced plans this week 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.
Political tensions were high.
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.
During an online ceremony Tuesday to donate masks, ventilators and other desperately needed medical supplies to hard-hit New York City, Chinese Consul-General Huang Ping indirectly appealed to Trump to tone down his recent rhetoric against the Asian country where the virus first emerged.
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.”
Trump, meanwhile, said he had a “very productive” meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the White House on Tuesday during which they discussed how they could work to expand screening “with the goal of doubling testing” in New York in the next few weeks.
The meeting marks a sharp shift in rhetoric between the two politicians. Days earlier, Trump had called on Cuomo to work harder to secure testing material for his state, while Cuomo pushed back that the president should turn off his television and get back to work.
Numerous governors and local leaders have said that before they can relax social distancing restrictions, they need help from Washington in expanding testing to help keep the virus in check.
Long reported from Washington. AP journalists worldwide contributed to this report.
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