COVID-19 Cases

In New Zealand, virus tamed while Brazil emerges as a hot spot


Surfers in New Zealand hit the waves at dawn, builders returned to building sites and baristas fired up their espresso machines as the nation eased a strict lockdown Tuesday amid hopeful signs the coronavirus was all but vanquished Down Under - at least for now.

But elsewhere, Brazil emerged as a potential new hot spot for infections, and fresh doubts were raised about whether Japan will be able to host next year's already postponed Olympic Games.

As they tried to restart their economies, Europe and certain U.S. states also continued to gradually ease limits on movement and trade.

But in a reminder of the growing toll of the virus, President Donald Trump said the death toll could reach 70,000 in the U.S., having put the number at 60,000 several times earlier this month.

With the number of new cases waning, New Zealand's government loosened its lockdown, which had shut down schools and most businesses for more than a month, and only allowed people to leave their homes for essential work, for grocery stores or for exercise.

Most students will continue to study from home, and when they can, workers are still required to work from home, while everyone is required to maintain social distance. But restaurants can now reopen for takeaway orders, building can restart and play golfers and surfers can.

On Tuesday, New Zealand reported only three new infections and health authorities in the country said they are winning the battle against the virus. Nevertheless they warned people not to become complacent and to keep social distance.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said people had done an amazing job of breaking the transmission chain, but cautioned that they needed to remain vigilant. Citing a microbiologist, Ardern said "there may still be some smoldering ashes out there and they have the potential to become a wildfire again if we give them the chance." In Australia, on Tuesday, authorities reopened Sydney's iconic Bondi Beach to swimmers and surfers and hundreds returned to the water once the restrictions had been lifted. During daylight hours, people can only use the beach, can not linger on the sand and are counted to ensure social distance.

A top medical expert in Japan said he thinks it will be hard to hold the 2021 Olympics without an effective coronavirus vaccine.

"I hope it will develop vaccines and drugs as soon as possible," said Yoshitake Yokokura, president of the Japan Medical Association.

Japan and the International Olympic Committee have agreed to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games because of the pandemic until July of next year. Japan is in a state of emergency for months amid a rapid rise in infections across the country, where hospitals are overburdened.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has insisted that COVID-19 is just a "little flu" and that there is no need for the type of restrictions that have slowed the spread of the infection in Europe, and that 4,600 deaths and 67,000 confirmed infections have been reported by the US. But, given the lack of testing and the many people without serious symptoms who have not sought hospital care, the true numbers are believed to be vastly higher.

Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major cities have warned that their hospital systems are on the brink of collapse or are too overwhelmed to take patients anymore.

There are also indications that more and more victims are now dying at home. Brazil is the largest country in Latin America, having 211 million people.

"We have all the conditions for the pandemic to become a lot more serious here," said Paulo Brandão, a virologist at Sao Paulo University.

Bolsonaro disputed the seriousness of the coronavirus and said that to prevent an economic meltdown, people need to resume their lives. But most of the country's state governors have adopted restrictions slowing the spread and pushing people to stay home.

In other developments British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work after a battle with the virus and strongly warned against easing the lockdown of his own country too soon: "I refuse to throw away all the British people's effort and sacrifice and risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life." And New York canceled its Democratic presidential primary, set for June 23, sin. The state has reported 337 deaths for this month's lowest daily count, down from almost 800 nearly three weeks ago.

According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, the number of confirmed infections in the U.S. has risen to almost 1 million, though the true number is probably much higher because not everyone who contracts the virus is tested.

The death toll had topped 210,000 worldwide. The death toll in the US exceeded 56,000. More than 20,000 deaths each occurred in Italy, Britain, Spain and France.