China and South Korea both reported more coronavirus infections Friday after reopening economies damaged by devastating outbreaks. Around the globe, governments are opting to accept the risks of easing pandemic-fighting restrictions that left huge numbers of people without income or safety nets.
In the U.S., some governors are disregarding or creatively interpreting White House guidelines in easing their states’ lockdowns and letting businesses reopen. An Associated Press analysis found 17 states appeared to have not met one of the key benchmarks set by the White House for loosening up a 14-day downward trajectory in new cases or positive test rates.
Worries over future waves of infections reflect the difficulty of fighting a disease that leaves many of those infected with scant or no symptoms, even as thousands lose their lives to pneumonia and other virus-related illness.
South Korea’s 13 fresh cases reported Friday were its first increase higher than 10 in five days. A dozen were linked to a 29-year-old who visited three nightclubs in Seoul last weekend.
“A drop of ink in clear water spreads swiftly,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said, urging vigilance to guard hard-won gains. “Anyone can become that drop of ink that spreads COVID-19.”
After its caseload waned from hundreds a day to a handful daily in recent weeks, South Korea has relaxed social distancing guidelines, scheduled school reopenings and allowed professional sports to resume without fans in the stands.
In China, where the new coronavirus first emerged, authorities reported 17 new virus cases on Friday, including 16 that tested positive but were not showing symptoms. No new deaths have been reported for more than three weeks, and just 260 people remain hospitalized to be treated for COVID-19.
The dire stakes of the pandemic have contributed to a surge in anti-foreigner sentiment including denying medical treatment to migrants and refugees, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. He appealed for an end to the “tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering.”
The U.N. is urging governments, companies and billionaires to contribute to a $6.7 billion appeal to fight the coronavirus in poor countries, warning that failure to help could cause a “hunger pandemic,” famine, riots and conflict.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 3.8 million people and killed over 268,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University based on official data. More than 1.2 million Americans have been infected and 75,000 have died. But everywhere, limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by some governments undoubtedly mean the true scale of the pandemic is much greater.