SEOUL – South Korea's capital closed down more than 2,100 bars and other nightspots Saturday because of a new cluster of coronavirus infections, Germany scrambled to contain fresh outbreaks at slaughterhouses, and Italian authorities worried that people were getting too friendly at cocktail hour during the country's first weekend of eased restrictions.
The new flareups — and fears of a second wave of contagion — underscored the dilemma authorities face as they try to reopen their economies.
Around the world, the U.S. and other hard-hit countries are wrestling with how to ease curbs on business and public activity without causing the virus to come surging back.
In New York, the deadliest hot spot in the U.S., Gov. Andrew Cuomo said three children died from a possible complication of the coronavirus involving swollen blood vessels and heart problems. At least 73 children statewide have been diagnosed with symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease — a rare inflammatory condition — and toxic shock syndrome. But there is no proof the mysterious syndrome is caused by the virus.
Two members of the White House coronavirus task force — the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration — placed themselves in quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, a stark reminder that not even one of the nation’s most secure buildings is immune from the virus.
Elsewhere, Belarus, which has not locked down despite sharply rising infections, saw tens of thousands turn out to mark Victory Day, the anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat in 1945. Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed concerns about the virus as a “psychosis.”
That was in contrast to Russia, which skipped the usual grand military parade in Moscow's Red Square. This year’s observance had been expected to be especially large because it is the 75th anniversary, but instead, President Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the tomb of the unknown soldier and a show of military might was limited to a flyover of 75 warplanes and helicopters.
Worldwide, 4 million people have been confirmed infected by the virus, and more than 279,000 have died, including over 78,000 in the U.S., according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Spain, France, Italy and Britain have reported around 26,000 to 32,000 deaths each.
Germany and South Korea have both carried out extensive testing and contact tracing and have been hailed for avoiding the mass deaths that overwhelmed other countries. But even there, authorities have struggled to find the balance between saving lives and salvaging jobs.
Seoul shut down nightclubs, hostess bars and discos after dozens of infections were linked to people who went out last weekend as the country relaxed social distancing. Many of the infections were connected to a 29-year-old man who visited three nightclubs before testing positive.
Mayor Park Won-soon said health workers were trying to contact some 1,940 people who had been at the three clubs and other places nearby. The mayor said gains made against the virus are now threatened “because of a few careless people.”
Germany faced outbreaks at three slaughterhouses in what was seen as a test of its strategy for dealing with any resurgence as restrictions ease. At one slaughterhouse, in Coesfeld, 180 workers tested positive.
Businesses in the U.S. continue to struggle as more employers reluctantly conclude that their laid-off employees might not return to work anytime soon. Health officials are watching for a second wave of infections, roughly two weeks after states began gradually reopening with Georgia largely leading the way.
Some malls have opened up in Georgia and Texas, while Nevada restaurants, hair salons and other businesses were able to have limited reopenings Saturday or once again allow customers inside after nearly two months of restrictions.
The reopening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Tennessee-North Carolina border was a bit too tempting a draw as scores of nature lovers crowded parking lots and trails and even trekked into closed areas, park spokeswoman Dana Soehn said. Many did not wear masks.
In Los Angeles, hikes to the iconic hillside Hollywood sign and hitting the golf links were allowed as the California county hit hardest reopened some sites to recreation-starved stay-at-homers.
Mayor Eric Garcetti urged “good judgment” and said the city would rely on education and encouragement rather than heavy-handed enforcement: “Not our vision to make this like a junior high school dance with people standing too close to each other," he said.
In New York, a Cuomo spokesman said the governor was extending stay-at-home restrictions to June 7, but another top aide later clarified that that was not so; the May 15 expiration date for the restrictions remains in place “until further notice,” Melissa DeRosa said in an evening statement.
The federal government said it was delivering supplies of remdesivir, the first drug shown to speed recovery for COVID-19 patients, to six more states, after seven others were sent cases of the medicine earlier this week.
Italy saw people return to the streets and revel in fine weather.
Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala warned that “a handful of crazy people’’ were putting his city's recovery at risk and threatened to shut down the trendy Navigli district after crowds of young people were seen out at the traditional aperitivo hour ignoring social-distancing rules.
The Campo dei Fiori flower and vegetable market was also bustling in Rome. But confusion created frustrations for the city's shopkeepers.
Carlo Alberto, owner of TabaCafe, an Argentine empanada bar that was selling cocktails to a few customers, said that since reopening this week, police had threatened to fine him over crowds outside.
“Am I supposed to send them home? They need a guard here to do that,” he said. “The laws aren’t clear, the decree isn’t clear. You don’t know what you can do.”
Elsewhere, Pakistan allowed shops, factories, construction sites and other businesses to reopen, even as more than 1,600 new cases and 24 deaths were reported. Prime Minister Imran Khan said the government was rolling back curbs because it can’t support millions who depend on daily wages. But controls could be reimposed if people fail to practice social distancing.
In Spain certain regions can scale back lockdowns starting Monday, with limited seating at bars, restaurants and other public places. But Madrid and Barcelona, the country’s largest cities, will remain shut down.
“The pandemic is evolving favorably, but there is a risk of another outbreak that could generate a serious catastrophe,” Spanish health official Fernando Simón said. “Personal responsibility is vital.”
Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland, and Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
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