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Countries facing pressure to loosen coronavirus restrictions

Hard-hit Spain is allowing workers in some non-essential industries to return to factories and construction sites.

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A worker wearing a protective face mask sprays disinfectant as a car prepares to enter an office building in Beijing (Andy Wong/AP)

A worker wearing a protective face mask sprays disinfectant as a car prepares to enter an office building in Beijing (Andy Wong/AP)

A worker wearing a protective face mask sprays disinfectant as a car prepares to enter an office building in Beijing (Andy Wong/AP)

South Korean officials have warned that hard-earned progress fighting the coronavirus pandemic could be hit by new infections at bars and leisure spots, highlighting global tensions between governments keen to maintain social distancing and citizens eager to resume their lives as economic pressure mounts.

Some European nations have started tentative moves to ease their shutdowns.

Hard-hit Spain, which on Sunday reported its lowest daily growth in infections for three weeks, allowed workers in some non-essential industries to return to factories and construction sites on Monday.

South Korea’s caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting around 500 new cases a day, but officials have warned of a broader “quiet spread”, pointing to transmissions at locations such as bars that may indicate eased attitudes towards social distancing.

South Korean Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun said officials were discussing new public guidelines that would allow people to engage in “certain levels of economic and social activity” while also maintaining distance to slow the spread of the virus.

Social distancing was still on full display for Easter Sunday celebrations around the globe, with many Christians marking the day isolated in their homes while clergy preached to empty pews.

St Peter’s Square at the Vatican was barricaded to keep out crowds, while one Florida church drew a large turnout for a drive-in service in a car park.

Pope Francis called for global solidarity to confront the “epochal challenge” of the pandemic.

He urged political leaders to give hope and opportunity to the millions laid off from work.

US President Donald Trump in his Easter message paid tribute to the medical professionals, first responders and other essential workers striving to combat the pandemic.

Back on March 24, Mr Trump had broached the possibility that the US could emerge from widespread lockdowns by Easter.

“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said.

Instead, the US is the new epicentre of the pandemic, with more than half a million cases and more than 22,000 deaths, the world’s highest.

About half the US deaths have been in the New York metropolitan area, but hospitalisations are slowing in the state and other indicators suggest that lockdowns and social distancing are “flattening the curve” of infections.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, said the economy in parts of the country could gradually reopen as early as next month.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

The Italian government said weekend police patrols resulted in more than 12,500 people being sanctioned and 150 facing criminal charges of violating lockdown measures.

On the hopeful side, officials said Italy recorded the lowest number of virus deaths in three weeks, with 431 people dying in the past day to bring its total to around 19,800.

But while attention has focused on the US and southern Europe, new coronavirus hot spots have been emerging in Japan and Turkey.

Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, has seen its number of new cases climb rapidly in recent days and now has 7,255 confirmed cases of the virus.

Japanese companies have been slow to switch to remote-working and people are still commuting, even after a state of emergency declaration for seven prefectures, including Tokyo.

In an effort to encourage citizens to stay at home, the government released a one-minute video showing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cuddling his dog, reading a book, sipping from a cup and clicking a remote control at home.

Mr Abe’s message drew criticism that he did not understand the plight of those who cannot rest at home. Many called him “an aristocrat”.

More than 1.8 million infections have been reported and more than 114,000 people have died worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The US has the highest numbers, with more than 555,000 confirmed cases. The figures certainly understate the true size and toll of the pandemic, due to limited testing, uneven counting of the dead and some governments’ desire to play down the extent of outbreaks.

PA