BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned Saturday that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, as regional outbreaks gave rise to fears of a second wave. Two of the largest U.S. states reversed course and reinstated some coronavirus restrictions amid a surge in new infections.
India reported more than 18,000 new cases, pushing its cumulative total over the half-million mark, the fourth highest globally behind the U.S., Brazil and Russia. Elsewhere, Egypt and Britain said they would ease virus controls, while China and South Korea battled smaller outbreaks in their capitals.
Merkel said in her weekly video podcast that getting Europe's economy back on track is her primary goal as Germany takes over the rotating European Union presidency next week, but stressed that everyone shared a “joint responsibility” in following social distancing, mask and hygiene rules as lockdown rules are relaxed.
German authorities renewed a lockdown in a western region of about 500,000 people last week after about 1,300 slaughterhouse workers tested positive for COVID-19, in an attempt to prevent the outbreak from spreading across the area.
Germany has recorded nearly 195,000 coronavirus infections and only around 9,000 deaths, with more than 177,000 recoveries, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
“The risk posed by the virus is still serious,” Merkel said. “It's easy to forget because Germany has gotten through the crisis well so far, but that doesn't mean we are protected, that the risk has been averted; that is not the case, as is demonstrated by these regional outbreaks.”
Fans of Germany's Schalke soccer club planned to demonstrate later in the day at the stadium against chairman Clemens Toennies, one of whose companies owns the slaughterhouse where the outbreak began. Workplace and living conditions for migrant workers employed at the facility have come into focus after the outbreak.
Elsewhere, Britain was expected to scrap a 14-day quarantine requirement for people returning from abroad in a bid to make summer vacation travel possible. Only travelers from "red" zones, places with a high level of COVID-19, will be told to self-isolate. A full list of countries, due to be published next week, is likely to give Spain, Greece and France a green light.
Egypt on Saturday lifted many restrictions put in place against the coronavirus pandemic, reopening cafes, clubs, gyms and theaters after more than three months of closure, despite a continued upward trend in new infections.
Authorities in other countries were taking a more cautious approach, with the Indian city of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state, announcing a new two-week lockdown starting Monday, with night curfews and weekend lockdowns in the rest of the state. India added 18,552 cases in the past 24 hours, raising its total to 508,953. The death toll reached 15,685.
China saw an uptick in cases, one day after authorities said they expect an outbreak in Beijing to be brought under control in the near future. The National Health Commission reported 17 new cases in the nation's capital, the most in a week, among 21 nationwide.
Xu Hejian, the deputy chief of Beijing’s publicity department, said the situation is severe and complex. “We must not, in the slightest degree, lower our guard,” he said.
South Korea, where a resurgence in the past month threatens to erase the country’s earlier success, reported 51 new cases, including 35 in the Seoul metropolitan area. Officials, worried about the fragile economy, have resisted calls to reimpose restrictions eased in April.
Australia braced for more imported cases as citizens return home. About 300 people were due to arrive this weekend from Mumbai, India, with others expected to follow from South America and Indonesia. One state heath