Restart or Re-stop? Economies Reopen But Chaos Abounds

A health official wearing protective gear sprays disinfectant to help reduce the spread of the new coronavirus ahead of school reopening, in a cafeteria at a high school in Seoul, South Korea, Monday. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Plastic barriers and millions of masks appeared Monday on the streets of Europe’s newly reopened cities, as France and Belgium emerged from lockdowns, the Netherlands sent children back to school and Greece and Spain further eased restrictions. All faced a delicate balance of trying to restart battered economies without fueling a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Social distancing was the order of the day but just how to do that on public transit and in schools was the big question.

With Monday’s partial reopening, the French did not have to carry forms allowing them to leave their homes but crowds quickly developed at some metro stations in Paris, one of France’s viral hot spots. A last-minute legal challenge emerged to the government’s practice of confining people to their own regions, further confusing the post-lockdown landscape.

Antoinette van Zalinge, principal of the De Notenkraker elementary school in Amsterdam, wore a wide white skirt and a hula hoop slung from her shoulders and carried a long stick with a hand at one end so she could greeet students while still keeping 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart.

Roughly half of Spain’s 47 million people stepped into a softer version of the country’s strict confinement, beginning to socialize, shop in small stores and enjoy outdoor seating in restaurants. Its biggest cities of Madrid and Barcelona remained under lockdown, however.

Fears about new waves of infection have been borne out in Germany, where a new cluster was linked to a slaughterhouse; in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus started; and in South Korea, where a single eatery customer was linked to 85 new infections.

The South Korean government pushed back hard against that wave, halting the school reopenings that had been planned for this week and re-imposing restrictions on eateries. It is now trying to track 5,500 people who had visited a popular Seoul entertainment district by checking credit-card transactions, mobile-phone records and security camera footage.

In Germany, gyms reopened in the most populous state, but authorities there and in France have said any backsliding in the daily number of infections could lead to new restrictions.

“We’re going to have to learn to live with the virus,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said on BFM news channel.

The hurdles ahead for tourism and the service industries were clear, even in places where infections are diminished.

In the U.K. — which has the second-most coronavirus deaths in the world behind the U.S. — Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a modest easing of the country’s lockdown but urged citizens not to surrender the progress already made. Some people, however, were confused as the government shifted its slogan from the “stay home” slogan to “stay alert,” and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland stuck with the old slogan.

People in jobs that can’t be done at home “should be actively encouraged to go to work” this week, he said. He also set a goal of June 1 to begin reopening schools and shops if the U.K. can control new infections and the rate that each patient infects others. Johnson himself is the only world leader to recover from a serious bout of COVID-19.

“We will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity,” Johnson promised. “We’re going to be driven by the science, the data, and public health.”

India reported its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases Monday as it prepared to resume train service to ease a lockdown that has hit migrant workers especially hard by eliminating the daily wages they use to feed their families. The government reported 4,213 new cases for more than 67,000 total, including 2,206 deaths.

The railway system is India’s lifeline, transporting 23 million people across the vast subcontinent each day. When service restarts Tuesday, passengers must wear masks and pass health screenings before being allowed to board and the trains will make fewer stops than usual.

While unemployed workers in developed nations are temporarily buoyed by benefits and job-protection schemes, millions elsewhere are facing dire economic prospects.

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