Governors around the United States began sketching out plans today to reopen their economies in a slow and methodical process so as to prevent the coronavirus from rebounding with tragic consequences.

In Italy, Spain and other places around Europe where infections and deaths have begun stabilising, the process is already underway, with certain businesses and industries allowed to start back up in a calibrated effort by politicians to balance public health against their countries' economic well-being.

While the crisis is far from over in the US, with more than 25,700 dead and approximately 605,200 confirmed infections by Johns Hopkins University's count, the doomsday scenarios that were predicted just two weeks ago have not come to pass, raising hopes from coast to coast.

People, one wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus, walk beneath blossoming trees in Philadelphia, the United States.
People, one wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus, walk beneath blossoming trees in Philadelphia, the United States.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has joined a coalition with his West Coast counterparts in Oregon and Washington on how to emerge from the crisis, outlined a set of conditions for lifting coronavirus restrictions in America's most populous state.

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Among other things, he said hospitalisations will have to decline and more testing will have to become available.

And when the state does reopen, he warned, things will not look the same.

Waiters will probably be wearing masks and gloves, schools may stagger students' arrival times to reduce crowding and large gatherings such as sporting events and concerts are "not in the cards," the Democrat said.

A similar coalition has taken shape in the Northeast, encompassing Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.


"The house is still on fire," New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said. "We still have to put the fire out" but also "make sure this doesn't reignite."

Politicians and public health authorities alike warned that an easing of the restrictions in the US and Europe will have to be accompanied by widespread antibody testing to see who might be immune and ramped-up tracing of infected people's contacts with others.

That could well entail the use of smartphone technology to alert potentially infected people.

US President Donald Trump said he would soon speak with all 50 governors and provide guidance on how and when to reopen. The previous day he insisted he has "total" authority over the loosening of restrictions, even though the Constitution largely delegates such powers to the states.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, by far America's hardest hit state, ridiculed that assertion, saying: "We don't have a king in this country."

While the President has issued national social-distancing guidelines advising people to stay home, it has been governors and local leaders who have instituted the tough, mandatory restrictions, such as lockdowns and the closing of schools and nonessential businesses.

The effects of such measures around the globe were made plain by the International Monetary Fund, which projected that the world economy will suffer its worst year since the Great Depression in the 1930s, shrinking by an estimated 3 per cent.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US Government's top infectious-disease expert, said that the US does not yet have the testing and tracing procedures needed to begin reopening the economy.


"We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we're not there yet," Fauci said.

Any relaxation of the social-distancing rules would have to occur on a "rolling" basis, not all at once, he said, reflecting the ways Covid-19 struck different parts of the country at different times.

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Fauci also said a vaccine might be possible by the northern mid- to late winter, a slightly more optimistic outlook than his previous estimate of 12 to 18 months. "Please, let me say this caveat: That is assuming that it's effective. See, that's the big 'if,'" he said. "It's got to be effective and it's got to be safe."

Some experts say states will need to train thousands of workers in contact tracing. Public health agencies from Massachusetts to San Francisco have gone on a hiring binge.

A woman crosses the empty Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, France.
A woman crosses the empty Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, France.

In Italy, which has seen more than 21,000 deaths but today reported the smallest number of new infections in a month, bookstores, stationery stores and shops selling baby supplies were allowed to open in many places.

Forestry workers, needed to clear dead trees ahead of the northern summer fire season, also went back.

In Spain, with more than 18,000 dead, workers returned to some factory and construction jobs this week, while stores and offices remained closed.


Hardware and gardening stores reopened in Austria, but Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he stands ready to "pull the emergency brake" if infections make a resurgence.

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Worldwide, about two million confirmed infections have been reported and over 120,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins.

The figures understate the true size of the pandemic, because of limited testing, uneven counting of the dead and concealment by some governments.

- AP