France and Spain, two of the worst-hit countries in the CCP virus pandemic, laid out separate roadmaps on April 28 for lifting their lockdowns, while signs emerged that the CCP virus has been all but vanquished in New Zealand and Australia. And new doubts were raised over whether Japan would be able to host the already postponed Summer Olympics next year without the development of a vaccine.
France will adopt an aggressive new doctrine on COVID-19 testing from May 11 so that it can slowly unwind its virus lockdown and avoid economic meltdown, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday.
The government had set itself a goal of carrying out at least 700,000 tests per week, he said. Once a person tests positive, tracing would begin to identify, test and isolate all those who had been in close contact with the individual.
“When we end the lockdown, we will have the capacity to massively scale up testing,” Philippe said in an address to parliament.
He said the lockdown had saved tens of thousands of lives but that the time had come to ease the unprecedented peacetime restrictions and rescue an economy in free-fall.
However, he warned that the infection rate would spiral if France moved too swiftly and people became complacent.
“We must protect the French people without paralyzing France to the point that it collapses,” Philippe said. “A little too much carefreeness and the epidemic takes off again. Too much prudence and the whole country buckles.”
Almost 24,000 people have died in the pandemic in France. The numbers in hospital in France with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, have fallen daily for two weeks, while the number of sufferers in intensive care has declined for 19 consecutive days.
From May 11, schools will gradually reopen and businesses will be free to resume operations, Philippe said. Restaurants, cafes and beaches, though, will remain closed until at least June, while professional sports are suspended until the end of August.
Spain announced a four-phase plan on Tuesday to lift one of the toughest lockdowns in Europe and return to normality by the end of June as the daily death toll fell to 301, less than a third of a record high of 950 in early April.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the lifting of the measures that have halted public life since March 14 and nearly paralyzed the economy, will begin on May 4 and vary from province to province. Each phase is designed to last two weeks.
The progression to higher phases with fewer restrictions will depend on factors such as how the rate of infection evolves, the number of intensive care beds available locally and how regions comply with distancing rules, he said, without providing concrete thresholds for such evaluation.
While restaurants can start opening terraces at no more than 30 percent of their capacity during the first phase, remote working will be recommended where possible until reaching the last phase of the plan at some point in June, when beaches would also be able to reopen with the support of local authorities.
“We are starting to glimpse an outcome that will be a reward for the huge collective effort made over the past weeks,” Sanchez said, warning that the “virus is still lurking.”
“It’s up to the people now, we are embarking on a journey without a precise route map … What we’ve accomplished is enormous but it could all be lost if we don’t look after each other,” he said.
Sanchez explained the government had chosen not to set precise deadlines for the easing of the lockdown, as had countries such as Italy, to avoid missing them in what is a fluid situation.
Total fatalities in Spain since the start of the outbreak rose to 23,822 on Tuesday, with the daily increase coming down from Monday’s 331, the health ministry said. The number of diagnosed cases rose to 210,773.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday restrictions on citizens’ movements would be lifted and more shops allowed to reopen from May 4 in a gradual easing of a lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the virus.
Greece has so far registered 2,566 coronavirus cases including 138 deaths, much fewer than many other European nations, thanks partly to the swift imposition of its lockdown on March 23.
But the lockdown has paralyzed an economy that only emerged in the summer of 2018 from a decade-long debt crisis, dashing expectations for strong growth this year. The government now expects a deep recession of up to 10 percent of national output.
“This is not the epilogue of our adventure but the continuation. Our emergence from quarantine will be done step by step. No one can rule out the risk of the threat rekindling,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address.
“A return (to normal life) must not lead to a relapse.”
Although most restrictions on Greeks’ free movement will be lifted on May 4, they will not be allowed to leave their wider region of residence, the conservative premier said.
Some retail stores, including book shops and hair salons, will reopen on May 4 and others later in the month. Schools will open gradually, starting on May 11.
New Zealand reported just three new infections Tuesday. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said people had done an incredible job of breaking the chain of virus transmission but cautioned they needed to remain vigilant.
“There may still be some smoldering ashes out there, and they have the potential to become a wildfire again, if we give them the chance,” she said, quoting a microbiologist.
Her government loosened its lockdown, which had shuttered schools and most businesses. Surfers hit the waves at dawn Tuesday, builders returned to construction sites and baristas fired up espresso machines.
In Australia, hundreds returned to the water after Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach reopened to swimmers and surfers. Still, people can only use the beach during daylight, cannot linger and are limited to ensure social distancing. Australia has reported only 83 CCP virus deaths.
The president of the Japan Medical Association, Yoshitake Yokokura, said he thinks it will be difficult to hold the rescheduled Tokyo Summer Olympics even in 2021 without an effective CCP virus vaccine.
Japan and the International Olympic Committee agreed to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Games until July 2021 due to the pandemic. Japan is under a monthlong state of emergency amid a rapid increase of infections and medical workers say hospitals are overburdened.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report