Spain and Austria allowed partial returns to work on Tuesday but Britain, France and India extended coronavirus lockdowns to try to rein in a pandemic which the World Health Organization warned had not yet peaked.
Nearly 2 million people globally have been infected and more than 119,200 have died in the most serious pandemic in a century, according to a Reuters tally. The epicentre has moved from China, where the virus first emerged in December, to the United States, which now has the highest death toll at 23,568.
World leaders, in considering easing curbs, have to balance risks to health and the economy, as the lockdowns strangle supply lines, especially in China, and bring economic activity to a virtual halt.
The world economy is expected to shrink by 3% this year, the International Monetary Fund said, marking the steepest downturn since the Great Depression.
The World Health Organization said the number of new cases was easing in some parts of Europe, including Italy and Spain, but outbreaks were growing in Britain and Turkey.
“The overall world outbreak, 90 percent of cases are coming from Europe and the United States of America. So we are certainly not seeing the peak yet,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a briefing in Geneva.
But world stocks gained after Chinese trade data came in better than expected and as some countries partly lifted restrictions.
Some Spanish businesses, including construction and manufacturing, were allowed to restart. Shops, bars and public spaces are to stay closed until at least April 26.
Spain was flattening the curve on the graph, representing the rate of growth of the outbreak, Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Tuesday. The overnight death toll from the coronavirus rose to 567 on Tuesday from 517 a day earlier, but the country reported its lowest increase in new cases since March 18. Total deaths climbed to 18,056.
Some workers expressed concern that the relaxation of restrictions could trigger a new surge. But for Roberto Aguayo, a 50-year-old Barcelona construction worker, the restart came just in time.
“We really needed it, just when we were going to run out of food we returned to work,” he told Reuters.
Italy, which has the world’s second highest death toll of 20,465, maintained some tight restrictions on movement. Denmark, one of the first European countries to shut down, will reopen day care centres and schools for children in first to fifth grade on April 15.
Thousands of shops across Austria reopened on Tuesday, but the government said it was “not out of the woods”.