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Coronavirus: Countries face increasing pressure to loosen virus restrictions

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South Korean officials warned Monday that hard-earned progress fighting the coronavirus pandemic could be upset by new infections at bars and leisure spots, highlighting global tensions between governments desperate to maintain social distancing and citizens eager to resume their lives as economic pressure mounts and infections slow in some places.

Some European nations have started tentative moves to ease their shutdowns. Hard-hit Spain, which on Sunday reported its lowest daily growth in infections in three weeks, will allow workers in some nonessential industries to return to factories and construction sites Monday.

South Korea’s caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting around 500 new cases a day, but officials have warned of a broader “quiet spread,” pointing to transmissions at locations such as bars that may indicate eased attitudes toward social distancing.

South Korean Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun said officials were discussing new public guidelines that would allow for people to engage in “certain levels of economic and social activity” while also maintaining distance to slow the spread of the virus.

Social distancing was still on full display for Easter Sunday celebrations around the globe, with many Christians marking the day isolated in their homes while pastors preached to empty pews. St. Peter’s Square was barricaded to keep out crowds, while one Florida church drew a large turnout for a drive-in service in a parking lot.

Pope Francis called for global solidarity to confront the “epochal challenge” of the pandemic. He urged political leaders to give hope and opportunity to the millions laid off from work.

President Donald Trump in his Easter message paid tribute to the medical professionals, first responders and other essential workers striving to combat the pandemic. Back on March 24, Trump had broached the possibility that the U.S. could emerge from widespread lockdowns by this weekend.

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“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — World celebrates Easter from afar as new virus hot spots sprout

Instead them U.S. is new epicenter of the pandemic, with more than half a million cases and more than 22,000 deaths, the world’s highest. About half the U.S. deaths have been in the New York metropolitan area, but hospitalizations are slowing in the state and other indicators suggest that lockdowns and social distancing are “flattening the curve” of infections.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said the economy in parts of the country could gradually reopen as early as next month.

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