Nations warn against Easter travel and gatherings as new virus surges emerge

By Geir Moulson, Elena Becatoros and Nick Perry, Associated Press

World leaders and health officials are warning that hard-won gains in the fight against coronavirus must not be jeopardised by relaxing social distancing over the Easter holidays.

A spike in deaths in the UK 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 governor 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.”

Elmhurst Hospital in New York (Kathy Willens/AP)

The US has by far the most confirmed cases, with more than 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 toll of almost 6,300. New York has more than 40% of the US death total of around 15,000.

It came as numbers released by the US government showed that 6.6 million American workers applied for unemployment benefits last week, on top of more than 10 million in the two weeks before that.

That amounts to about one in 10 American workers, the biggest, fastest pileup of job losses since the world’s largest economy began keeping records in 1948.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised that people should not travel as usual this weekend, saying: “Even short trips inside Germany, to the seaside or the mountains or relatives, can’t happen over Easter this year.”

(PA Graphics)

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

“It’s simple – travelling 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 major routes and secondary roads, doubling fines for lockdown violations and banning travel between islands.

Swiss police are 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.

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 is not time to scale back such measures.

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

Japan reported more than 500 new cases for the first time on Thursday, a worrying 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 Mr Abe appears to be concerned about keeping the economy going.

India, whose 1.3 billion people are under 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 not allow them to leave. The number of confirmed cases exceeds 5,000, with 166 deaths.

New infections and hospital admissions have been levelling off in hard-hit Italy and Spain, which together have more than 32,000 deaths.

(PA Graphics)

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce soon how long the country’s lockdown will continue.

In Spain, where more than 15,000 people have died, budget minister Maria Jesus Montero said “normal life” will gradually return beginning on April 26 but warned it would be a staggered easing.

Spanish health authorities said reported infections and deaths have gone down again after a two-day uptick, hopefully signalling a return to an overall slowdown under a national lockdown.

The Health Ministry said on Thursday that authorities reported 5,756 new cases and 728 deaths over the previous 24-hour period, compared with new 6,180 cases and 757 new deaths on Wednesday.

Worldwide, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has climbed to nearly 1.5 million, with almost 90,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher.