Spring weather to test social distancing in U.S., Europe; cases spike in Russia
New York – Gorgeous spring weather across the United States and Europe on Saturday drew people cooped up inside for weeks outside to soak in the sun, even as additional coronavirus hot spots in Russia and Pakistan emerged.
Though grateful to be outside, people were still wary – masks were worn everywhere, even on southern U.S. beaches and by some joggers in Spain. A New York City farmers market marked off the familiar 6 feet (2 meters) of space between people waiting to buy spring flowers. Mothers in Central Park reminded their kids to give people space. And small groups of picnickers kept their safe distances, while joggers moved past each other without a glance.
New York sent out 1,000 police officers over the weekend to enforce social distancing on the warmest days since mid-March. But they were more likely to break up large groups, leaving the nuisances of social distancing and hanging out safely outside to New Yorkers themselves.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said people need to go outside and enjoy the warm weather.
“Go for a walk, but respect the social distancing and wear a mask,” Cuomo said.
Health officials say going outside can be a lot less dangerous than staying indoors, where droplets from people infected with COVID-19 can live longer away from the sunshine and be spread through close contact or carried short distances through air conditioning currents.
But people must still take precautions like avoiding close contact, staying isolated if running a fever or having other symptoms and wearing masks in public places like subways, stores and around other crowds.
Elsewhere in the world, the pandemic’s danger was still evident. Russia and Pakistan reported their biggest one-day spikes in new infections.
Russia reported around 125,000 cases and more than 1,200 deaths. True numbers are believed to be much higher because not everyone is tested. In the far northeast, 3,000 of 10,000 workers at a vast natural gas field tested positive, Russian news agencies reported.
Moscow’s mayor said this week that officials are considering establishing temporary hospitals at sports complexes and shopping malls to deal with the influx of patients. Infection cases have reached the highest levels of government, with both the prime minister and the construction minister contracting the virus.
It’s a familiar series of events that played out in other hot spots. New cases are still being reported in many of those places, but the rate of new cases reported and deaths have lowered significantly.
The virus has killed more than 238,000 people worldwide, including more than 65,000 in the United States and more than 20,000 each in Italy, Britain, France and Spain, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. Health experts warn a second wave of infections could hit unless testing is expanded dramatically.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia, or even death.
There are economic factors to consider as well. In some areas of the United States, reopening is being pushed to ease the shutdown of businesses that plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930′s and wiped out millions of jobs.
It has created a patchwork of rules across the 50 states. In South Carolina, where about 20% of the state’s revenue comes from tourism, hotels along beaches were allowed to reopen Friday. Webcams showed dozens of people on the beach, but pools still closed. South Carolina also hasn’t reopened dine-in restaurants, unlike neighboring Georgia. Some U.S. states haven’t started the reopening process.
In Spain, where COVID-19 has caused more than 25,100 deaths, people ventured out Saturday for the first time since a March 14 lockdown. People ran, walked, or rode bicycles under a brilliant sunny sky in Barcelona, where time slots were set up for activities and age groups and many flocked to the maritime promenade to get as close as possible to the still-off-limits beach.
“I feel good, but tired. You sure notice that it has been a month and I am not in shape,” 36-year-old Cristina Palomeque said. “Some people think it may be too early, as I do, but it is also important to do exercise for health reasons.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said his country deserved relief after weeks of confinement, But he asked citizens to remain vigilant about virus precautions.
“Until we have a vaccine, we are going to see more outbreaks,” Sánchez said. “What we need to guarantee is that these outbreaks do not put our national health system in danger.”
Italy, which has suffered more than 28,700 deaths, the highest number in Europe, plans to begin easing its two-month lockdown starting Monday. China, where the pandemic began in December, reported a single new infection Saturday, extending a steady decline in confirmed cases. South Korea reported six new cases on Saturday, none of them in the hard-hit city of Daegu in the southeast.
But Pakistan appears to be joining Russia with rapidly increasing case counts. On Saturday, Pakistan announced nearly 1,300 new cases, raising the total in the country of 220 million people to about 18,000.
The increase coincides with increased testing. The government said more than 9,000 tests were conducted in the previous 24 hours. Prime Minister Imran Khan has set a goal of 20,000 per day.
Photos in newspapers showed large numbers of the faithful at Pakistani mosques and only some following social distancing rules. Khan’s government said it might ease controls, but doctors have pleaded for stricter lockdowns, warning an explosion of infections would overwhelm hospitals that have only 3,000 intensive care beds nationwide.