Fears have resurfaced about the ability of coronavirus to surge again after lockdowns are eased, as Singapore confirmed a sharp rise in new infections on Wednesday.
One of the worst-hit countries when the virus first spread from China in January, Singapore’s strict surveillance and quarantine regime helped slow the outbreak, but recent rises in locally transmitted cases have raised fresh concerns. Singapore reported 142 new infections on Wednesday.
Forty of the new cases were linked to foreign worker dormitories. Tens of thousands of blue-collar foreign workers live in close quarters in the city state.
Countries around the globe are grappling with the complex logistics of when and how to loosen lockdown restrictions to allow economies to recover while also avoiding a second major outbreak.
Driving pressure to find an exit strategy is the catastrophic scale of damage to the global economy, with the World Trade Organization warning that growth is expected to plummet by up to a third in 2020 owing to the pandemic.
The European commission has advised EU member states to extend restrictions on non-essential travel until 15 May but is preparing to issue a “roadmap” on a coordinated lifting of Europe’s lockdown.
Announcing the proposed extension of the travel ban, Margaritis Schinas, a commission vice-president, said: “While we can see encouraging first results, prolonging the travel restriction is necessary to continue reducing the risks of the disease spreading further. We should not yet let the door open whilst we are securing our house.”
A Brussels plan for lifting the lockdown was revealed in a document leaked to the Guardian. Marked “absolutely confidential”, the paper, which is expected be endorsed by the commission next week, says “it is time to develop a well-coordinated EU exit strategy” from the current measures. It says the easing should be done measure by measure on a month-by-month basis, while acknowledging that it could lead to new infections.
“Any level of [gradual] relaxation of the confinement will unavoidably lead to a corresponding increase in new cases,” the paper says.
Earlier on Wednesday, a Spanish government spokeswoman suggested the county’s tough quarantine measures could potentially start being reduced at the end of the month, before being corrected by colleagues who insisted the country remained in a “difficult phase”.
Meanwhile, Madrid’s regional government said more than 4,200 people in care homes in and around the capital had died from coronavirus or while showing associated symptoms since 8 March. There are growing doubts over the way authorities in Spain are recording deaths, and fears that the country’s true death toll may be far higher than it is known.
The US reported 1,858 deaths, a global daily record. Although there is no evidence that the country has yet reached a peak of infections, the vice-president, Mike Pence, said the public health agency was considering an announcement on easing restrictions.
Under the proposed guidance, people exposed to someone infected would be allowed back to work if they have no symptoms, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask, said a person familiar with the proposal under consideration.
New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced that the state had recorded its biggest single-day death toll for a second consecutive day. There were 779 deaths on Tuesday, he said, putting the state’s total death toll at 6,268. “The bad news isn’t just bad, the bad news is terrible,” Cuomo said.
Switzerland on Wednesday extended its anti-coronavirus restrictions for another week, to 26 April, but said a gradual loosening of the measures – which include border controls, school closures and bans on gatherings – would begin this month.
In other developments on Wednesday:
Senior officials at the World Health Organization pushed back at calls by Donald Trump to withhold funding from the organisation, and calls by Trump’s supporters for the resignation of its head, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Tokyo recorded 144 infections, its biggest daily jump since the start of the pandemic, on the first day of a state of emergency aimed at containing Japan’s outbreak.
Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, the first major world leader confirmed to have contracted Covid-19, was said to be improving after spending a second night in intensive care.
Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, and Liberia declared states of emergency to help curb the spread of the virus, a day after confirmed cases on the continent rose above 10,000.
The rise in cases in Singapore, previously hailed as one of a number of Asian countries whose lockdowns were successful in bringing their initial outbreaks under control, underline how easily the virus can return.
The Chinese city of Wuhan ended its 76-day lockdown on Wednesday morning, allowing residents to travel in and out of the city without special authorisation that had been given through a mandatory smartphone app.
International health experts will be watching the situation in Wuhan for signs of new infections developing there, amid anxiety over Chinese transparency about its cases.
As different countries attempt to apply different lockdown measures, Turkey announced it would monitor the mobile phones of citizens diagnosed with coronavirus to ensure they do not break quarantine.
The presidency’s communications directorate said those caught breaking the rules would be asked to return home and could be penalised, adding that Turkish law allowed for processing of personal data without consent for “exceptional aims”.