SOAVE, Italy (AP) — In separate, stark warnings, two major European leaders bluntly told their citizens that the world needs to adapt to living with the coronavirus and cannot wait to be saved by the development of a vaccine.
The comments by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came as governments worldwide and many US states struggled with restarting economies blindsided by the pandemic. With 36 million newly unemployed in the US alone, economic pressures are building, even as authorities acknowledge that reopening risks setting off new waves of infections and deaths.
Pushed hard by Italy’s regional leaders and weeks in advance of an earlier timetable, Conte is allowing restaurants, bars and beach facilities to open on Monday, the same day that church services can resume and shops reopen.
“We are facing a calculated risk, in the awareness… that the epidemiological curve could go back up,” Conte said. “We are confronting this risk, and we need to accept it, otherwise we would never be able to relaunch.”
Conte added that Italy could “not afford” to wait until a vaccine was developed. Health experts say the world could be months, if not years, away from having a vaccine available to everyone despite the scientific gold rush now on to create one.
Britain’s Johnson, who was hospitalized last month with a serious bout of COVID-19, speculated Sunday that a vaccine may not be developed at all, despite the huge global effort to produce one.
“I said we would throw everything we could at finding a vaccine,” Johnson wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. “There remains a very long way to go, and I must be frank that a vaccine might not come to fruition.”
The coronavirus has infected over 4.6 million people and killed more than 312,000 worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts say under-counts the true toll of the pandemic. The US has reported over 88,000 dead and Europe has seen at least 160,000 deaths.
In the US, many states have lifted stay-at home-orders and other restrictions, allowing some types of businesses to reopen.
Houses of worship are beginning to look ahead to resumption of in-person services, with some eyeing that shift this month. But the challenges of reopening the door to in-person worship are steeper in states with ongoing public health restrictions.
In Elgin, Illinois, Northwest Bible Baptist Church had sought to welcome back worshipers on Sunday, preparing to scan people’s temperatures and purchasing protective equipment. But the church postponed that after local authorities raised questions, and is now in talks about parameters for holding future services.
The church’s preparations to reopen were “more than what they’d had to do if they were at Home Depot or Lowe’s or Walmart,” said Jeremy Dys, a counsel at First Liberty Institute, the legal nonprofit representing Northwest Bible Baptist. “Somehow, people going to church are incapable, it’s insinuated, of safely gathering.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declined to criticize local leaders amid images of crowded bars and boardwalks in areas where coronavirus restrictions are being lifted. Azar told CNN in an interview Sunday that, “The president has left it up to states to know their local situation the best,” and said it is therefore “very hard to judge in any community whether a bar being open, a restaurant, a school is the right thing.”
He said the lockdown measures also carry “serious health consequences,” including the risk of suicide, delayed cardiac procedures and cancer screenings. As for the images, he said: “I think in any individual instance you’re going to see people doing things that are irresponsible,” but says: “That’s part of the freedom we have here in America.”
Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told “Fox News Sunday” that the virus can spread “explosively” if lockdown restrictions are lifted too quickly.
“That’s why we have to be so careful,” Frieden said. “We’re all tired of waiting at home. We want to get out. I want to get back to the gym. We want to get back to our lives.”
Professional soccer matches in Germany’s Bundesliga resumed over the weekend, a move keenly watched by the rest of the soccer world as well as American sports leagues like the MLB, the NBA, the NFL and the NHL, which all face major changes to their operations amid the pandemic.
Germany has won wide praise for its widespread testing amid the pandemic. Not all fans were happy about the restart, which took place in empty stadiums, but the games were broadcast widely around the world.
Players were warned not to spit, shake hands or hug each other to celebrate goals. Team staff and substitutes wore masks on the bench, and balls and seats were disinfected.
“The whole world is watching Germany to see how we do it,” Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick said. “It can act as an example for all leagues.”
Churches throughout Greece opened their doors to the faithful after two months Sunday, while limiting the number of congregants and dispensing disinfectants. Turkey allowed people over 65 to leave their homes only for a second time — up to six hours — but kept them under a general lockdown.
Small shops were opening in most of Spain, which on Sunday reported only 87 new deaths, the lowest daily death count since March 16. Restrictions, however, remained tighter in Madrid and Barcelona, the hardest-hit areas.
In Asia, China’s commercial hub of Shanghai announced a June 2 restart of classes for younger students amid falling virus cases. People in Thailand streamed Sunday into shopping malls, which have been closed since March.
China’s airline regulator reported that flights had returned to 60 percent of pre-outbreak levels, exceeding 10,000 per day for the first time since February 1. No new deaths have been reported in a month in the world’s second-largest economy, where the coronavirus was first detected late last year.
China reported just five new cases on Sunday, while South Korea recorded 13, raising hopes that a new outbreak linked to nightclubs in Seoul may be waning, even though 168 patients have been infected so far.