LONDON (AP) – Britain on Tuesday became the first country in Europe to confirm more than 30,000 coronavirus deaths and infections rose sharply again in Russia, even as other nations made great strides in taming the virus. China marked its third week with no new virus deaths and South Korea restarted its professional baseball season.
In the U.S., some states began halting steps to lift the lockdown restrictions being blamed for throwing millions out of work and upending the global economy even as thousands of new U.S. infections and deaths were being reported daily.
Britain looks set to surpass Italy as Europeâ€™s hardest-hit nation. The government says 28,734 people with COVID-19 had died in U.K. hospitals, nursing homes and other settings while Italy has reported 29,079 fatalities. Tallies from both are likely to be underestimates because they only include people who tested positive and testing was not widespread in Italian and British nursing homes until recently.
Yet official U.K. statistics released Tuesday that take into account people who died with suspected COVID-19 give a fuller picture and put Britainâ€™s coronavirus toll at more than 30,000 dead. The statistics, which go up to April 24, show that deaths were a third higher than the government count. A comparable figure for Italy was not available.
In Russia, the number of infections rose sharply again, with Moscow reporting more than 10,000 new cases for three days in a row.
At the same time, many European countries that have relaxed strict lockdowns after new infections tapered off were watching their virus numbers warily.
â€œWe know with great certainty that there will be a second wave – the majority of scientists is sure of that. And many also assume that there will be a third wave,” Lothar Wieler, the head of Germanyâ€™s national disease control center, said Tuesday.
Italy this week allowed 4.4 million people to go back to work and eased restrictions on personal movement for the first time in two months. Scientists on Tuesday warned lawmakers to prepare for a new wave of infections.
The coming weeks are essentially an â€œexperimentâ€ to see how the infection curve reacts to the easing of the Westâ€™s first lockdown, the head of infectious diseases at Italyâ€™s Superior Institute of Health told the La Repubblica newspaper.
â€œWe are not out of the epidemic. We are still in it,” said Dr. Giovanni Rezza. “I donâ€™t want people to think thereâ€™s no more risk and we go back to normal.â€
Widely seen as a success story, South Korea reported only three new cases of the virus, its lowest total since Feb. 18. Schools will be reopened in phases starting with high school seniors on May 13, but the highlight Tuesday was the baseball season.
No spectators were allowed. Cheerleaders danced beneath rows of empty seats and umpires wore protective masks as one of the world’s first major professional sports returned to action in games broadcast to sports fans around the world. The Korea Baseball Organization also employed other protective measures, including fever screenings for players and coaches before they entered the stadiums.
With Major League Baseball in the U.S. still mulling plans on what to do about its own season, American sports network ESPN signed a contract to broadcast six KBO games per week, starting with Tuesday’s season opener between Daegu’s Samsung Lions and Changwon-based NC Dinos, which the Dinos won 4-0.
The countryâ€™s professional soccer leagues will kick off Friday, also without spectators.
In China, it’s been three weeks since any new deaths have been reported in the country where the pandemic began late last year. Just one new case of infection was confirmed, and fewer than 400 patients are still being treated for COVID-19, health officials said.
Other places in the Asia-Pacific region have also suppressed outbreaks, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, which has had zero new cases for two days. But experts say India, a nation of 1.3 billion people, has yet to see the peak of its outbreak.
In Britain, which unlike other European nations remains in lockdown, a trial began Tuesday of a mobile phone app that authorities hope will help contain the outbreak. The app, which warns people if they have been near an infected individual, is being tested on the Isle of Wight, off Englandâ€™s southern coast. The government hopes it can be rolled out across the country later this month.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to soon detail a route out of a nationwide lockdown that began March 23 and runs through Thursday. Critics say Johnson’s Conservative government responded too slowly when COVID-19 began to spread, failed to contain the outbreak by not widely testing people with symptoms, then failed to trace and isolate the contacts of infected people.
Countries that did that, including South Korea and Germany, have recorded much lower death rates than those that did not.
The British governmentâ€™s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, acknowledged Tuesday that â€œif weâ€™d managed to ramp up testing capacity quicker it would have been beneficial.â€
In France, scientists released a study saying they may have identified a possible case of the new coronavirus dating back to December – about a month before the first cases were officially confirmed in Europe.
Outside experts said the study, which was done retrospectively from incomplete medical records, was interesting but not conclusive proof that the virus started spreading in Europe before previously believed.
Governments around the world have reported 3.6 million infections and more than 251,000 deaths, including nearly 69,000 deaths in the United States. Deliberately concealed outbreaks, low testing rates and the severe strain the disease has placed on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is undoubtedly much greater.
Several U.S. states have been moving to relax restrictions even as daily new infections there continue to exceed 20,000 and daily deaths are well more than 1,000, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
When and how to ease lockdowns will remain a key policy question for governments and cities for months, if not years.
After India relaxed some lockdown restrictions on Monday, thousands of people turned up at liquor stores without following social distancing recommendations. In some places police had to use batons to disperse the crowds.
On Tuesday, Indian authorities imposed a special tax of 70% on liquor purchases to deter such scenes.
Rising reported from Berlin and Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
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