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Countries start thinking about easing up on virus restrictions

Planning virus exit strategy

Even as coronavirus deaths mount across Europe and New York, the U.S. and other countries are starting to contemplate an exit strategy and thinking about a staggered and carefully calibrated easing of restrictions designed to curb the scourge.

“To end the confinement, we’re not going to go from black to white; we’re going to go from black to gray,” top French epidemiologist Jean-François Delfraissy said in a radio interview.

Deaths, hospitalizations and new infections are levelling off in places like Italy and Spain, and even New York has seen encouraging signs amid the gloom. At the same time, politicians and health officials warn that the crisis is far from over and a catastrophic second wave could hit if countries let down their guard too soon.

“We are flattening the curve because we are rigorous about social distancing,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “But it’s not a time to be complacent. It’s not a time to do anything different than we’ve been doing.”

In a sharp reminder of the danger, New York state on Wednesday recorded its highest one-day increase in deaths, 779, for an overall death toll of almost 6,300.

“The bad news is actually terrible,” Cuomo lamented. Still, the governor said that hospitalizations are decreasing and that many of those now dying fell ill in the outbreak’s earlier stages.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was issuing new guidelines for some workers who have been within 6 feet of someone with a confirmed or suspected infection to go back on the job if they have no symptoms. The guidelines apply to employees in critical fields such as health care and food supply and require they take their temperature beforehand, wear face masks at all times and practice social distancing.

In China, the lockdown of Wuhan, the industrial city of 11 million where the global pandemic began, was lifted after 76 days, allowing people to come and go. The country on Thursday announced two additional deaths in Wuhan but no new cases there.

Wuhan residents will have to use a smartphone app showing that they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus. Schools remain closed, people are still checked for fever when they enter buildings and masks are strongly encouraged.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious-diseases expert, said the Trump administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country amid evidence that social distancing is working to stop the virus’s spread.

But he said it's not time to scale back such measures: “Keep your foot on the accelerator because this is what is going to get us through this,” he said at Wednesday's White House briefing.



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