India Reopens Stores, Speeding Easing of Virus Lockdowns

April 25, 2020 Updated: April 25, 2020

NEW DELHI—A tentative easing around the world of the CCP virus, a novel coronavirus, lockdowns gathered pace Saturday with the reopening in India of neighborhood stores that many of the country’s 1.3 billion people rely on for everything from cold drinks to mobile phone data cards.

The relaxation of the super-strict Indian lockdown came with major caveats. It did not apply to hundreds of quarantined towns and other hotspots that have been hit hardest by the outbreak that has killed at least 775 people in India and terrified its multitudes of poor who live hand-to-mouth in slum conditions too crowded for social distancing.

Shopping malls also remained closed across the country. Still, for families that run small stores, being able to earn again brought relief.

“This is a good decision,” said Amit Sharma, an architect. “We have to open a few things and let the economy start moving. The poor people should have some source of income. This virus is going to be a long-term problem.”

Last week, India also allowed manufacturing and farming activities to resume in rural areas to ease the economic plight of millions of daily wage-earners left without work by the country’s lockdown imposed March 24. India’s stay-home restrictions have allowed people out of their homes only to buy food, medicine or other essentials.

Elsewhere in Asia, however, Sri Lanka’s lockdown was tightened, not eased, confirming a pattern of one-step-forward, one-step-back also seen elsewhere as countries battle the pandemic, trying to juggle public health against the health of shut-down economies.

Sri Lanka had partially lifted a monthlong curfew during daytime hours in more than two thirds of the country. But it reimposed a 24-hour lockdown countrywide after a surge Friday of 46 new infections, the highest increase in a day on the Indian Ocean island. The new curfew remains in effect until Monday.

New York coronavirus
A woman gets off a bus on Flatbush Avenue on April 24, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Known as “The City That Never Sleeps,” New York’s streets are particularly empty during the CCP virus (COVID-19) pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

In Europe, Belgium sketched out plans for a progressive lockdown relaxation, starting May 4 with the resumption of nonessential treatment in hospitals and the reopening of textile and sewing shops so people can make face masks. Bars and restaurants would be allowed to start reopening June 8, although Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes also cautioned that a surge in infections could alter the timeline and that “nothing is set in stone.”

In France, the government is preparing to gingerly ease one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns from May 11.

Denmark has reopened schools for the youngest grades. Kids in Spain will get their first fresh air in weeks on Sunday when a total ban on letting them outside is relaxed. After 44 days indoors, they’ll be allowed to take one toy or scooter with them but not play together for the adult-supervised one-hour excursions no further than one kilometer (0.6 miles) from home.

Without a tried-and-tested action plan for how to pull countries out of the CCP virus lockdown, the world is seeing a patchwork of approaches. Schools reopen in one country, stay closed in others; face masks are mandatory in some places, a recommendation elsewhere.

Britain was still holding off on changes to its lockdown as the COVID-19-related death toll in hospitals was on target to surge past 20,000. It’s the fourth highest in Europe, behind Italy, Spain and France, each of which has reported more than 20,000 deaths.

In the U.S., Republican governors in Georgia and Oklahoma allowed salons, spas and barbershops to reopen, while Alaska opened the way for restaurants to resume dine-in service and retail shops and other businesses to open their doors, all with limitations. Some Alaska municipalities chose to maintain stricter rules.

Epoch Times Photo
Marsha Howard, right, helps Jason Gjertsen at the Work & Rugged Gear Store in Sitka, Alaska on April 24, 2020. (James Poulson/The Daily Sitka Sentinel via AP)

Though limited in scope, and subject to social-distancing restrictions, the reopenings marked a symbolic milestone in the debate raging in the United States and beyond as to how quickly political leaders should lift economically devastating lockdown orders.

In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lengthened her stay-at-home order through May 15, while lifting restrictions so some businesses can reopen and the public can participate in outdoor activities such as golf and motorized boating. Michigan has nearly 3,000 deaths related to COVID-19, behind only New York and New Jersey.

During a White House press briefing Friday, President Donald Trump spoke optimistically of the economy but also asked people to continue social distancing and using face coverings. The same day, Trump signed a $484 billion bill to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the pandemic.

Amy Pembrook and her husband, Mike, reopened their hair salon in the northwest Oklahoma town of Fairview after it had been shuttered for about a month.

“We’re super excited about going back, but we have caught a little flak from people who say it’s too early,” Amy Pembrook said. “We just said we can live in fear for a long time or we can trust that everything is going to be OK.”

By Ashok Sharma and John Leicester

Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.