Surfers in New Zealand hit the waves at dawn, builders returned to construction sites and baristas fired up their espresso machines as the nation eased a strict lockdown Tuesday amid hopeful signs the coronavirus has been all but vanquished Down Under — at least for now.
But elsewhere, Brazil was emerging as a potential new hot spot for infections, and fresh doubts were raised over whether Japan would be able to host the already postponed Olympic Games next year.
Europe and some U.S. states were also continuing to gradually ease limits on movement and commerce as they tried to restart their economies.
But in a reminder of the virus’s increasing toll, U.S. President Donald Trump said the numbers of deaths could reach 70,000 in the U.S., after putting 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 for more than a month had shuttered schools and most businesses, and only allowed people to leave their homes for essential work, to get groceries or to exercise.
Most students will continue studying from home and workers are still required to work from home if they can, while everyone is required to maintain social distancing. But restaurants can now reopen for takeaway orders, construction can restart, and golfers and surfers can play.
New Zealand reported just three new infections on Tuesday and the country’s health authorities said they’re winning the battle against the virus. Nevertheless they cautioned people not to get complacent and to maintain social distancing.
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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said people had done an incredible job to break the chain of transmission, but cautioned they needed to remain vigilant. Quoting a microbiologist, Ardern said “there may still be some smouldering ashes out there, and they have the potential to become a wildfire again, if we give them the chance.”
In Australia, authorities reopened Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach to swimmers and surfers on Tuesday and hundreds returned to the water as soon as the restrictions were lifted. People can only use the beach during daylight hours, cannot linger on the sand and are counted to ensure social distancing.
In Japan, a top medical expert said he thinks it will be difficult to hold the Olympics in 2021 without an effective coronavirus vaccine.
“I hope vaccines and drugs will be developed as soon as possible,” said Yoshitake Yokokura, the president of the Japan Medical Association.