Health experts have expressed growing dread that a second wave of coronavirus deaths and infections could force governments to clamp down again, even as China declared its risk level is low and New Zealand relaxed its pandemic shutdown.
Authorities in many countries are drawing up plans for how to cope with a resurgence in outbreaks even as they slowly work to reopen businesses and resume other activity halted to combat the pandemic.
Public health officials in the US said they are worried as about half of states ease their shutdowns, with mobile phone data showing that people are becoming restless and increasingly leaving home.
Many states have not put in place the robust testing that experts believe is necessary to detect and contain new outbreaks, and many governors have pressed ahead with reopening before their states met one of the key benchmarks in the Trump administration’s guidelines for reopening — a 14-day downward trajectory in new infections.
“If we relax these measures without having the proper public health safeguards in place, we can expect many more cases and, unfortunately, more deaths,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.
Newly confirmed infections per day in the US exceed 20,000, and deaths per day are running well over 1,000.
Researchers recently doubled their projection of deaths in the US to about 134,000 through to early August. So far the US has recorded more than 70,000 deaths and 1.2 million confirmed infections, while Europe has reported more than 140,000 dead, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
China’s National Health Administration reported just two new cases on Thursday, both from overseas, and said the whole country is now at low risk of further infections after confirming no new deaths from Covid-19 in more than three weeks.
The last place downgraded from high to low risk was a county next to the Russian border where the most recent spike in cases was reported.
Strict social distancing also appears to have beaten the outbreak in New Zealand, where prime minister Jacinda Ardern outlined plans for further relaxing of lockdown rules, with a decision possible next week.
New Zealand would keep its borders shut, restrict gatherings to 100 people or fewer and hold professional sports events without spectators. Masks and other precautions would be required as restaurants and schools reopen, she said.
But Ms Ardern called for vigilance, saying: “We think of ourselves as halfway down Everest. I think it’s clear that no one wants to hike back up that peak.”
Elsewhere around the world, German authorities have begun drawing up plans to cope with any resurgence of the virus, and experts in Italy doubled down on finding new victims and tracing their contacts.
France, which has not yet eased its lockdown, has already worked up a “reconfinement plan” in the event of a new wave.
Worldwide the virus has infected more than 3.6 million people and killed over a quarter of a million, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally, which experts agree understates the dimensions of the pandemic because of limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by some governments.