Security employee disinfect shopping carts at the entrance of a garden store in Munich, Germany, Monday, April 20, 2020. Europe’s biggest economy, starts reopening some of its stores and factories after weeks of lockdown due to the new coronavirus outbreak. (Photo: AP)
Boeing and a small number of other manufacturers around the U.S. geared up Monday to resume production this week amid pressure from President Donald Trump to reopen the economy and resistance from governors who warn there is not enough testing yet to keep the coronavirus in check.
Boeing, one of the Pacific Northwest’s biggest employers, said it will put about 27,000 people back to work building passenger jets at its Seattle-area plants, with virus-slowing precautions in place, including face masks and staggered shift times. Bobcat, a farm equipment manufacturer, announced it will resume production with about 600 employees in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Elsewhere around the world, step-by-step reopenings were underway in Europe, where the crisis has begun to ebb in places like Italy, Spain and Germany. Parts of the continent are perhaps weeks ahead of the U.S. in the trajectory of the disease, which has killed over 160,000 people worldwide.
The reopenings of certain industries is the U.S. are barely a drop in the bucket compared with the more than 22 million American thrown out of work by the crisis.
Businesses that start operating again are likely to engender good will with the Trump administration at at time when it is doling out billions to companies for economic relief. The president has been agitating to restart the economy, egging on protesters who feel governors are moving too slowly.
But reopening carries major risks, especially since people can spread the virus without even knowing they are infected. Many governors say they lack the testing supplies they need and warn that if they reopen their economies too soon, they could get hit by a second wave of infections.
The death toll in the U.S., the worst-hit country by far, was more than 40,000 with over 750,000 confirmed infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University of government reports. The true figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of limited testing and difficulties in counting the dead.
Protesters have taken to the streets in places such as Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, complaining that the shutdowns are destroying their livelihoods and trampling their rights. Defying the social-distancing rules and, in some cases, wearing no masks, demonstrators have berated their governors and demanded the firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert.
But on Monday, Fauci warned: “Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen.”
“If you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you’re going to set yourself back. So, as painful as it is to go by the careful guidelines of gradually phasing into a reopening, it’s going to backfire,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
In the past few days, Florida gave the OK for beaches to reopen, and Texas on Monday began a week of slow reopenings, starting off with state parks. Later, stores will be allowed to offer curbside service.
Washington state was the first in the nation to see a spike in COVID-19 cases and enacted strict shutdown orders that helped tamp the virus down. Europe was likewise well ahead of the U.S. on the curve.
The global game plan is to open up but maintain enough social distancing to prevent new flareups of the virus.
The easing of the lockdowns “is not the end of the epidemic in any country. It’s just the beginning of the next phase,″ the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told G-20 health ministers in an online meeting.
He sternly warned governments not to rush to return to normal, saying, “It is critical that these measures are a phased process.”
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the gradual easing “is a step-by-step process where, after time, we will evaluate what consequences it has had for the infection.”
Cars will again begin rolling off some production lines in Germany, Sweden and Slovakia. In Australia, the production of the country’s longest-running soap opera, “Neighbours,” planned to restart by having separate crews for each key filming site. One city council in Australia reopened beaches but stressed they were only for exercise like swimming, running and surfing, and not for sunbathing.
“Living along the coast, I know how important our beaches are to the mental and physical health of so many,” said Danny Said, mayor of Randwick.
Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach remained closed.
Hair salons, dentists, physiotherapists and even tattoo parlors were allowed to reopen in Denmark but it was not business as usual. Christel Lerche sprayed customers’ chairs with alcohol at her salon in suburban Copenhagen and provided hand sanitizer and plastic coat hangers — to be cleaned after each use — to clients keen to get their hair trimmed or styled for the first time since restrictions began on March 11. No magazines were left for customers to share.
India eased the world’s largest lockdown to allow some manufacturing and agricultural activity to resume — if employers can meet social distancing and hygiene standards. The move came as India recorded its biggest single-day spike in infections.
Iran began opening intercity highways and major shopping centers Monday to stimulate its sanctions-choked economy, despite major questions about the country’s official infection figures and death toll.
Not every government was ready to take its foot off the brake just yet.
In Italy, tensions have been growing between northern regions, which are pushing to reopen industry despite being hardest hit by the coronavirus, and the south, which fears contagion if the lockdown is eased. Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to outline what a “Phase 2” can look like this week, with the nationwide lockdown set to be lifted on May 4.
Still, Gucci on Monday restarted some workshops for leather accessories and shoes, agreeing with unions to provide “maximum security for workers.” The luxury fashion industry is a major part of the economy in Italy, and deadlines are looming to produce fall collections.
In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still recovering from a bout of COVID-19 that saw him hospitalized in intensive care, a lockdown imposed March 23 is due to last at least until May 7, and ministers have cautioned that measures are unlikely to be significantly loosened in the short term.
France also is still under a tight lockdown, although starting Monday, authorities allowed families, under strict conditions, to visit relatives in nursing homes once again.
In some places, lockdown fatigue was on the rise. Dutch police broke up two illegal gambling events and fined dozens of people for breaching local rules. In Japan, authorities emphasized that the time is not ripe to loosen restrictions by mowing down tens of thousands of tulips in full bloom near Tokyo. The problem was that people were coming to admire the flowers.
“This situation is now about human life,” said city official Takahiro Kogo. “It was a heart-wrenching decision, but we had to do it.”