Rising caseloads in India, Russia underline reopening risks
MOSCOW (AP) — India saw another record daily jump in coronavirus cases Thursday while Russia reported a steady increase in its caseload even as it moved to swiftly ease restrictions in sync with the Kremlin's ambitious political plans.
The developments come as the United States crossed a somber landmark of 100,000 coronavirus fatalities, meaning that more Americans have died from the virus than were killed in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined.
India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, reported more than 6,500 new infections, another record daily surge that brought the nation's total to more than 158,000 infections. The spike comes as the nation’s two-month-old lockdown is set to end Sunday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is preparing a new set of guidelines to be issued this weekend, possibly extending the lockdown in worst-hit areas as it promotes economic activity. Earlier this month, the country allowed reopening of shops and manufacturing and resumption of some trains and domestic flights and vehicles’ movement.
South Korea on Thursday reported its biggest jump in coronavirus cases in more than 50 days, a setback that could erase some of the hard-won gains that have made it a model for the rest of the world. Health officials warned that the resurgence is getting harder to track and social distancing and other steps need to be taken.
And in Russia, high daily numbers of new coronavirus infections underlined the risks of reopening the economy, which has been badly battered by the outbreak.
Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia will hold a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the Nazi defeat in World War II on June 24, declaring that the nation has passed the peak of the pandemic that had forced the Kremlin to postpone the celebrations.
The massive May 9 parade marking Russia's most important holiday was intended to emphasize the nation's key role in World War II and underline its international clout, with French President Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders set to attend. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Moscow will now resend the invitations to Macron and others.
Russian media reported that the Kremlin now also plans to go ahead with another high-priority event on Putin's political agenda — a plebiscite on constitutional amendments that could allow him to stay at the helm through 2036 if he chooses. The Russian president postponed the vote from April because of the outbreak.
The government’s anti-coronavirus task force reported more than 8,300 new infections Thursday, about the same as in the previous day and lower than the peak levels of more than 11,000 cases earlier this month. The total number of infections topped 379,000, the world’s third-largest caseload behind the United States and Brazil.
Russian officials reported 174 new deaths, repeating the highest daily toll recorded two days ago and bringing the nation’s total to 4,142.
Some Kremlin critics alleged that the nation's relatively low mortality of about 1% of those infected might reflect manipulations driven by the authorities' desire to set a positive environment for both the parade and the constitutional vote.
Russian officials have angrily rejected the allegations, charging that the low toll was a result of sweeping preventative measures, broad testing and efficient treatment.
Moscow, which accounted for about half of all infections, ordered to ease the tight lockdown in place since late March, saying that non-food stores, dry cleaners and repair shops are allowed to open Monday. The capital's mayor also announced that residents will be allowed to walk in the parks with some restrictions and engage in sports in the mornings.
Across the vast country, numerous provinces already have eased the lockdowns.
The situation in many other countries also underscores the difficulty in reopening economies.
In the U.S., Las Vegas casinos and Walt Disney World have made plans to reopen, and crowds of unmasked Americans are expected to swarm beaches over the summer months. Public health officials predict a resurgence by fall.
But despite the risks, the pressure for easing restrictions has risen across the globe as the economic pain inflicted by the pandemic has deepened.
French unemployment claims jumped 22% in April, as 843,000 more people sought work and the virus lockdown prevented companies from hiring. The jobless ranks in France don't include 8 million people who received government-funded temporary unemployment in April and are gradually returning to work, the employment office said.
While the temporary unemployment scheme is credited with stabilizing the French economy during the virus crisis, the country is still facing its worst recession since World War II and permanent job cuts are likely.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 5.7 million people and killed over 355,000, with the U.S. having the most confirmed cases and deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Europe has recorded about 170,000 deaths.
The true death toll from the virus is widely believed to be significantly higher, with experts saying many victims died without ever being tested.
Some nations are seeing improvements. New cases in Spain and Italy have fallen steadily for two months. China reported just two new cases on Thursday, both from abroad. New Zealand has reported no new cases for six days and has just eight active cases remaining.
Nick Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.