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Warnings Multiply Over Easter Travel   04/09 06:08

   BERLIN (AP) -- As the Easter holiday approaches, world leaders and health 
officials are fervently warning that the hard-won gains in the fight against 
the coronavirus must not be jeopardized by relaxing social distancing.

   A spike in deaths in Britain and New York and surges of reported new 
infections in Japan and in India's congested cities make it clear that the 
battle is far from over. 

   "We are flattening the curve because we are rigorous about social 
distancing," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "But it's not a time to be 
complacent. It's not a time to do anything different than we've been doing."

   The U.S. has by far the most confirmed cases, with over 430,000 people 
infected --- three times the number of the next three countries combined. New 
York state on Wednesday recorded its highest one-day increase in deaths, 779, 
for an overall death toll of almost 6,300. New York has more than 40% of the 
U.S. death total of around 15,000.

   In Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn cautioned that the positive trend in 
reduced new infections "must be cemented."

   "So it is right to remain consistent over Easter," he told the Handelsblatt 
newspaper Thursday. "Even if it is difficult in this weather, we should stay 
home and refrain from family visits so that the infection curve does not rise 
again."

   German Chancellor Angela Merkel also emphasized that people shouldn't travel 
as usual, saying "even short trips inside Germany, to the seaside or the 
mountains or relatives, can't happen over Easter this year."

   In New Zealand, police warned people not to drive to their holiday homes 
over Easter or they would be risking arrest.

   "It's simple - traveling to and from different towns and cities risks 
spreading COVID-19, and puts lives at risk," police said. 

   Lithuania is restricting public movement and imposing a lockdown on major 
cities during Easter to prevent the further spread of infection in the 
predominantly Catholic nation.

   Greece also tightened restrictions ahead of next week's Orthodox Easter 
celebrations, increasing police roadblocks along highways and secondary roads, 
doubling fines for lockdown violations and banning travel between islands.

   Swiss police were seeking to dissuade drivers from heading to the 
Italian-speaking Ticino region, the only part of Switzerland south of the Alps 
and one of the worst-hit by the pandemic. Roadblocks were being set up near the 
northern entrance of the Gotthard tunnel to separate out would-be visitors.

   Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious-diseases expert, said 
the Trump administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the 
country amid evidence that social distancing is working. But he said it's not 
time to scale back such measures.

   "Keep your foot on the accelerator because this is what is going to get us 
through this," he said.

   Fauci said the coronavirus pandemic will demand permanent changes in 
people's behavior until a vaccine is found and developed. He said everyone now 
should be constantly washing their hands and sick children and adults should 
not go to school or work.

   "Don't anybody ever shake hands again," he said, smiling. "I mean, it sounds 
crazy, but that's the way it's really got to be until we get to a point where 
we know the population is protected (with a vaccine)."

   In a potentially worrying development in South Korea, at least 74 people 
diagnosed as having recovered from the new coronavirus tested positive for a 
second time after they were released from the hospital. Health authorities were 
testing their virus and serum samples to determine whether those patients could 
again be infectious to others.

   In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johonson spent a third night in intensive 
care due to COVID-19 infection. On Wednesday night, authorities said he was 
improving and sitting up in bed. The country posted its highest death toll in a 
single day Wednesday, with 938 virus-related deaths, and feared it could break 
that record again Thursday.

   Japan reported more than 500 new cases for the first time Thursday, a 
worrisome rise since it has the world's oldest population and COVID-19 can be 
especially serious in the elderly. 

   Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared a state of emergency --- but not a 
lockdown --- in Tokyo and six other prefectures earlier this week. Companies in 
the world's third-largest economy have been slow to embrace working from home 
and Abe appears to be concerned about keeping the economy going. Many commuters 
jammed Tokyo's streets as usual on Thursday.

   But Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who has outlined business closure plans that 
are tougher than the Abe's, said the city is in a dire situation with new cases 
surging and cannot delay non-essential business shutdowns for two more weeks. 

   "The spread of the infections are so fast in Tokyo that we cannot wait that 
long," she said.

   India, whose 1.3 billion people are under a lockdown until next week, has 
sealed off dozens of hot spots in and around New Delhi, the capital. It will 
supply residents with food and medicine but allow them to leave. The number of 
confirmed cases exceeds 5,000, with 166 deaths.

   Worldwide, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has climbed to nearly 1.5 
million, with nearly 90,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The 
true numbers are almost certainly much higher, because of limited testing, 
different rules for counting the dead and the efforts of some governments to 
conceal the extent of outbreaks in their nations.

   For most, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and 
cough. But for some older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and 
death. Almost 330,000 people have recovered worldwide.

   U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said he would speak to leaders in African 
American communities who are concerned about disproportionate impacts from the 
virus. Fauci acknowledged that historic disparities in health care have put 
African Americans at risk for diseases that make them more vulnerable in the 
outbreak.

   Meanwhile, new infections and hospitalizations have been leveling off in 
hard-hit Italy and Spain, which together have more than 32,000 deaths. 

   Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce soon how long the 
country's lockdown will continue. In Spain, where nearly 15,000 people have 
died, Budget Minister Mara Jess Montero said "normal life" will gradually 
return beginning April 26 but warned it would be a staggered easing.


(KR)

 
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