(MINNEAPOLIS) — Spain let children go outside and play Sunday for the first time in six weeks as European countries methodically worked to ease their lockdowns and reopen their economies, while in the United States, governors moved at differing speeds, some more aggressive, others more cautious.
Elsewhere around the world, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson planned to go back to work Monday at 10 Downing St. after a bout with the coronavirus that put him in intensive care.
While governors in states like hard-hit New York and Michigan are keeping stay-at-home restrictions in place until at least mid-May, their counterparts in Georgia and Oklahoma have allowed salons, spas and barbershops to reopen. And Alaska cleared the way for restaurants to resume dine-in service and for stores and other businesses to open, with limitations.
The official death toll from the virus topped 200,000 worldwide, with 2.9 million confirmed infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, though the real figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of inadequate testing and differences in counting the dead.
Italy, Britain, Spain and France accounted for more than 20,000 deaths each, the U.S. for more than 55,000.
Some encouraging signs were seen, as Italy recorded its lowest 24-hour number of deaths since mid-March, with 260, and New York state registered its fewest since late last month, with 367.
Still, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sounded a cautious note about any reopening, though he acknowledged officials need to think about safe activities people can engage in as the crisis wears on.
“You can’t tell people in a dense urban environment all through the summer months: ‘We don’t have anything for you to do,’” the Democrat said. “There’s a sanity equation we need to pay attention to.”
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, told “Fox News Sunday” that with hospitalizations dropping in his state, it will reopen churches and restaurant dining on Friday, with social distancing guidelines in place.
“We believe it’s the time to have a measured reopening,” he said.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told ABC’s “This Week” that her state needs more robust testing, community tracing and a plan for isolating people who get sick with COVID-19.
“We’ve got to be nimble and we have to follow the science and be really smart about how we reengage,” she said, “because no one — no one, even if you’re a protester or you’re the sitting governor or you’re on another side of the issue — we know that no one wants a second wave.”
She added: “It would be devastating for the health of our people and for our economy.”
As some states began considering loosening restrictions on churches, one Louisiana pastor already under house arrest for holding mass gatherings conducted a service Sunday despite the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. A livestream from the Life Tabernacle Church in the town of Center showed Tony Spell walking among more than 100 congregants, most of whom were not wearing face masks.
“Shouldn’t nobody be scared right now but the devil,” he said, adding: “God gave you an immune system to kill that virus.”
With infections and deaths easing in three of the hardest-hit spots in Europe, people in Italy, France and Spain were eager to hear their leaders’ plans for easing some of the world’s strictest lockdowns. In Spain, the streets echoed again Sunday with children’s shrieks of joy and the clatter of bicycles.
After 44 days in seclusion, children under 14 were allowed out with one parent for up to an hour, as long as they stayed within 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) of their homes, took only one toy and did not play with other youngsters.
“This is wonderful! I can’t believe it has been six weeks,” Susana Sabaté, a mother of 3-year-old twin boys, said in Barcelona. “My boys are very active. Today when they saw the front door and we gave them their scooters, they were thrilled.”
Her sons wore little face masks. “Now we will see how long they stay on!” she said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will present a detailed plan Tuesday for the “de-escalation” of Spain’s lockdown. His French counterpart likewise said he will unveil a “national deconfinement strategy” on the same day.
“Maximum caution will be our guideline for the rollback,” Sanchez said. “We must be very prudent, because there is no manual, no road map, to follow.”
Italy’s Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce more details on easing the lockdown there in the coming days. Conte said priorities include restarting construction projects and export industries. He confirmed that school classes won’t resume until September.
As Britain’s prime minister returns to work, he faces calls for more clarity on when his government will ease the lockdown, now set to run until at least May 7.
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Other European nations are further along in easing lockdowns. Germany allowed nonessential shops and other facilities to open last week, and Denmark has reopened schools for children up to fifth grade.
The Chinese city of of Wuhan, where the disaster began late last year, said all major construction projects have resumed as authorities push to restart factory production and other economic activity after a 2 1/2-month lockdown.
Wilson reported from Spain. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.