US states ease coronavirus lockdown, people get pedicures

Even as the confirmed US death toll from the coronavirus soared past 50,000, Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska began loosening lockdown orders today.

US states ease coronavirus lockdown, people get pedicures

Even as the confirmed US death toll from the coronavirus soared past 50,000, Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska began loosening lockdown orders today (local time) on their pandemic-wounded businesses, despite warnings from health experts that the gradual steps toward normalcy might be happening too soon.

Republican governors in Georgia and Oklahoma allowed salons, spas and barbershops to reopen, while Alaska opened the way for restaurants to resume dine-in service and retail shops and other businesses to open their doors, all with limitations. Some Alaska municipalities chose to maintain stricter rules.

Though limited in scope, and subject to social-distancing restrictions, the reopenings marked a symbolic milestone in the debate raging in the United States – and the world – as to how quickly political leaders should lift economically damaging lockdown orders.

Similar scenarios have been playing worldwide and will soon proliferate in the US as other governors wrestle with conflicting priorities.

Their economies have been battered by weeks of quarantine-fuelled job losses and soaring unemployment claims, yet health officials warn that lifting stay-at-home orders now could spark a resurgence of COVID-19.

The coronavirus has killed more than 190,000 people worldwide, including – as of Friday – more than 50,000 in the United States, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from government figures. The actual death toll is believed to be far higher.

New cases are surging in Africa and Latin America as outbreaks subside in some places that were hit earlier.

In the US

In Oklahoma, Gov Kevin Stitt authorised personal-care businesses to open, citing a decline in the number of people being hospitalised for COVID-19.

Those businesses were directed to maintain social distancing, require masks and frequently sanitise equipment.

Still, some of the state's largest cities, including Norman, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, were opting to keep their bans in place until at least the end of April.

With deaths and infections still rising in Georgia, many business owners planned to stay closed despite Gov Brian Kemp's assurance that hospital visits and new cases have levelled off enough for barbers, tattoo artists, massage therapists and personal trainers to return to work with restrictions.

Gov Kemp's timeline to restart the economy proved too ambitious even for President Donald Trump, who said he disagrees with the fellow Republican's plan.

Today, Mr Trump signed a US$484 billion bill to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the pandemic – the latest federal effort to help keep afloat businesses that have had to close or scale down. Over the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid, or about one in six US workers.

In Michigan, Gov Gretchen Whitmer lengthened her stay-at-home order through May 15, while lifting restrictions so some businesses can reopen and the public can participate in outdoor activities like golf and motorised boating during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock extended the city's stay-at-home order and non-essential business closures through May 8 just as Colorado Gov Jared Polis, a fellow Democrat, prepared to relax some statewide restrictions next week.


Without a tried-and-tested action plan for how to pull countries out of coronavirus lockdown, the world is seeing a patchwork of approaches.

Schools reopen in one country, stay closed in others; face masks are mandatory in some places, a recommendation elsewhere.

Kids still attend soccer practice in Sweden while they are not even allowed outside in Spain.

As governments and scientists fumble around, still struggling with so many unknowns, individuals are being left to take potentially life-affecting decisions.

In France, the government is leaving families to decide whether to keep children at home or send them back to class when the nationwide lockdown, in place since March 17, starts to be eased May 11.

In Spain, parents face a similarly knotty decision: whether to let kids get their first fresh air in weeks when the country starts Sunday (local time) to ease the total ban on letting them outside.

The slowing of Spain's horrific outbreak, which has killed more than 22,500 people, made the prospect of letting kids out feasible.

For the first time Friday, Spanish health authorities counted more people recovering from the disease in a 24-hour span than new infections.

Coronavirus: Flattening the curve explained

Coronavirus: what you need to know

How is coronavirus transmitted?

The human coronavirus is only spread from someone infected with COVID-19 to another. This occurs through close contact with an infected person through contaminated droplets spread by coughing or sneezing, or by contact with contaminated hands or surfaces.

How can I protect myself and my family?

World Health Organisation and NSW Health both recommend basic hygiene practices as the best way to protect yourself from coronavirus.

Good hygiene includes:

  • Clean your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser;
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with tissue or your elbow;
  • Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms;
  • Apply safe food practices; and
  • Stay home if you are sick.

For breaking news alerts and livestreams straight to your smartphone sign up to the and set notifications to on at the or You can also get up-to-date information from the Federal Government's Coronavirus Australia app, available on the  and the .

Reported with Associated Press.

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Africa dangerously behind in global race for virus gear

Africa's coronavirus cases have surged 43% in the past week but its countries are dangerously behind in the global race for scarce medical equipment. Ten nations have no ventilators at all.

Africa dangerously behind in global race for virus gear

Africa's coronavirus cases have surged 43 per cent in the past week but its countries are dangerously behind in the global race for scarce medical equipment. Ten nations have no ventilators at all.

Outbid by richer countries, and not receiving medical gear from top aid donor the United States, African officials scramble for solutions as reported virus cases have climbed past 27,000. Even in the best scenario, the United Nations says 74 million test kits and 30,000 ventilators will be needed by the continent's 1.3 billion people this year. Very few are in hand.

"We are competing with the developed world," said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The very future of the continent will depend on how this matter is handled."

Politicians instinctively try to protect their own people and "we know that sometimes the worst in human behavior comes out," said Simon Missiri, Africa director with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, urging an equitable approach to help developing nations.

The crisis has jolted African nations into creating a pooled purchasing platform under the African Union to improve negotiating power. Within days of its formation, the AU landed more than 100,000 test kits from a German source. The World Health Organisation is pitching in; it has reported fewer than 2,000 ventilators across 41 African countries.

On Friday the WHO hosted the launch of a global effort to ensure that vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics reach all countries, rich or poor.

Africa also benefits from the U.N.'s largest emergency humanitarian operation in decades, with medical cargo including hundreds of ventilators arriving in Ethiopia this month and sent to all countries across the continent. Another shipment from the Jack Ma Foundation is on the way.

But Africa isn't holding out a begging bowl, Nkengasong said. Instead, it's asking for a fair crack at markets — and approaching China for "not donations. Quotas that Africa as a continent can purchase."

Such efforts are a response to a global thicket of protectionism: More than 70 countries have restricted exports of medical items, putting Africa in a "perilous position," the U.N. says. New travel bans have closed borders and airports, badly wrenching supply chains.

"It's like people hoarding toilet paper, which I still don't understand," Amer Daoudi, the U.N. World Food Program's senior director of operations, told The Associated Press. "Countries in Europe and North America are paying attention to their own internal needs, but we think that will ease off very soon."

While nations that are traditionally the world's top humanitarian donors are distracted, the WFP, the U.N.'s logistics leader, heaved the emergency operation into place with unprecedented reach. Normally in about 80 countries, this effort involves almost 120, Daoudi said.

The WFP seeks $350 million to keep the operation running for Africa and elsewhere, delivering aid for the pandemic and other crises like HIV and cholera that need drugs and vaccines to keep flowing. Africa imports as much as 94% of its pharmaceuticals, the U.N. says.

"I've never been involved in anything like this before. I don't think any of us have," said Stephen Cahill, WFP's director of logistics. "We're seeing countries taking measures we think aren't always rational. When you start closing borders, we start to get very nervous."

Some African nations, after securing equipment, have complicated delivery by causing cargo to stall at ports; 43 have closed their borders.

The global supply crisis is so pressing that the U.N. General Assembly this week approved a resolution urging countries to immediately end "speculation and undue stockpiling." Separately, China said it won't restrict exports of needed medical goods.

Developing regions take different approaches. China is the main source of help in Southeast Asia. In South Asia, several countries committed to India's proposed COVID-19 Emergency Fund. Small South Pacific island nations teamed up to get equipment. And some Latin American nations are trying to free equipment stuck in U.S. ports, or making supplies themselves.

But the global disruptions are especially felt across Africa, where governments that have historically underfunded health systems are partnering in an effort that's been compared to going to war.

"Where a product cost, for example, a dollar before, it's now gone up a hundred-fold," said Africa CDC deputy director Ahmed Ogwell. While many African nations have money on hand, the trading companies they use face extreme challenges: "Country X can go and say, 'I'll pay you double what you're offered.'"

In the United States, the Trump administration has said coronavirus aid to at-risk countries would not include key medical equipment, to meet demand at home.

"I've heard no situation yet in any of our countries where the U.S. has made any medical supplies available anywhere," said Charles Franzen, director of humanitarian and disaster response for World Relief.

When asked how many ventilators and test kits have been sent to Africa, a senior U.S. administration official said aid has focused on water, sanitation and messaging: "We're also looking at the PPE and ventilator needs and will be making those decisions very quickly," the official said.

So African public and private health sectors have teamed up as never before. "Irresponsible behaviour by richer countries" will not solve the pandemic, said Amit Thakker, president of the Africa Healthcare Federation, criticising "any country that diverts supplies for the sake of their own citizens" at developing countries' expense.

The private Business for South Africa works closely with the health ministry to get supplies. With better-resourced countries more likely to score deals, "that's not great for Africa. ... Ventilators are like trying to spot a dodo bird at the moment, literally," said Stavros Nicolaou, who leads BSA's efforts.

South Africa has worked with economic allies to obtain drugs from India and protective gear from China, Nicolaou said, but with the pandemic arriving in Africa later than elsewhere, "we have entered the fray quite late when the supply chain is highly, highly constrained."

As the pandemic hits countries at different times, one of Africa's most prominent philanthropists, Sudanese-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim, said, "this is the time for everybody to act together, not to compete."

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