Georgia eases lockdown; US COVID-19 toll passes 50,000

  • A customer wears personal protective equipment while riding an MTA bus as it operates without fees, Friday. AP/John Minchillo

  • A man wears a mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus as he walks along the Trocadero square close to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Friday, April 24, 2020. France continues to be under an extended stay-at-home order until May 11 in an attempt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

  • Staff of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government urge people to go home from the Kabukicho entertainment district in the Shinjuku Ward in Tokyo, Friday evening, April 24, 2020. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expanded a state of emergency to all of Japan from just Tokyo and other urban areas as the virus continues to spread. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko) Eugene Hoshiko

  • In this Monday, March 9, 2020, photo, students wearing masks to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus, participate in the visual arts mock exam for Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) at the CCC Ming Kei College in Hong Kong. Hong Kong's university entrance examinations have started with social-distancing measures. More than 52,000 students are expected to sit for the city's Diploma of Secondary Education exams over the next month. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) Kin Cheung

  • People wear face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus as they walk through an outdoor shopping area in Beijing, Friday, April 24, 2020. China reported no new virus deaths for the ninth straight day, and just six new cases on Friday. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) Mark Schiefelbein

  • Muslim men attend a Friday prayer despite concerns of the new coronavirus outbreak, at a mosque during the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Lhokseumawe, in the religiously conservative province of Aceh, Indonesia, Friday, April 24, 2020. During Ramadan, which begins Friday, faithful Muslims normally fast during the day and then congregate for night prayers and share communal meals. (AP Photo/Zik Maulana) Zik Maulana

  • A staff member of the local health authority supports a woman using a new coronavirus test kit at a new drive-in testing center in Berlin, Germany, Friday, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) Michael Sohn

  • Ultra-Orthodox Jews keep social distancing during a morning prayer next to their houses as synagogues are closed following the government's measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, Israel, Friday, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) Oded Balilty

  • In this photo taken on Thursday April 23, 2020, two women in traditional dress dance by the entrance of their decorated house in the village of Mairena del Alcor, some 21 kilometres (13 miles) from Seville, Spain, during the annual traditional April Fair celebrated across the southern Andulacia Provence. Without breaking the confinement rules and maintaining their distance from each other, the residents of the village have found a novel way of continuing the tradition of the fair which has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak and normally includes flamenco dancing, bullfighting, eating and drinking. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti) Miguel Morenatti

  • People going to work some wear masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus ride a subway early morning in Paris,Friday, April 24, 2020. France continues to be under an extended stay-at-home order until May 11 in an attempt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

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    A client leaves a bookstore after collecting her order in Lille, northern France, Friday April 24, 2020. French bookstores, which saw sales plunge in the first month of confinement due ti the coronavirus outbreak, have won permission to open pick-up windows for customers to fetch books they've ordered online or by phone. The culture minister said book customers can check the box for "purchases of primary necessity" when they fill out the form that all French residents must carry whenever they leave the house explaining why they're not in confinement. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler) Michel Spingler

  • A construction worker passes a mural by artist Casper Cruse, showing a woman with a face mask holding a heart in the colors of the dutch flag as a statement of support for those suffering from the effects of the coronavirus, in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong) Peter Dejong

  • Neighbors receive a free lunch in a soup kitchen organized by neighbors and financed by the local government, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Thursday, April 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) Rodrigo Abd

  • The initiative 'Empty Chairs' have set up almost 800 chairs in front of the Brandenburg Gate to point out the difficult situation of their industry in Berlin, Germany, Friday, April 24, 2020. The federal and state governments have decided to relax a number of coronavirus related restrictions in Germany but restaurants and pubs must remain closed. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP) Bernd von Jutrczenka

  • A man walks down the stairs in a quiet 61st Street–Woodside subway station in the Queens borough of New York, Thursday night, April 23, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. More evidence is emerging that far more New Yorkers have had the coronavirus than the number confirmed by lab tests, officials said Thursday, offering insight that could help authorities decide how and how quickly to let people stop isolating from friends and return to work. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) Mark Lennihan

Published: 4/24/2020 3:55:07 PM
Modified: 4/24/2020 3:54:53 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Barber shops, nail salons, gyms and a few other businesses reopened in Georgia on Friday as the Republican governor eased a month-long shutdown despite warnings from health experts of a potential new surge of coronavirus infections.

As some customers ventured back to these venues, the confirmed number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States surpassed 50,000, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from government figures. The actual death toll is believed to be far higher.

Even though limited in scope, the reopenings in Georgia and at least two other states marked a symbolic milestone in the debate raging in the United States – and the world – as to how quickly political leaders should lift economically damaging lockdown orders.

With deaths and infections still rising in Georgia, many business owners planned to remain closed in spite of Gov. Brian Kemp’s assurance that hospital visits and new cases have leveled off enough for barbers, tattoo artists, massage therapists and personal trainers to return to work with restrictions.

Kemp’s timeline to restart the economy proved too ambitious even for President Donald Trump, who said Wednesday he “disagreed strongly” with the fellow Republican’s plan.

On Friday, Trump was holding a signing ceremony for a bill providing a nearly $500 billion infusion of coronavirus spending, rushing new relief to employers and hospitals.

Without a tried-and-tested action plan for how to pull countries out of coronavirus lockdown, the world is seeing a patchwork of approaches. Schools reopen in one country, stay closed in others; face masks are an obligation here, a simple recommendation there.

Kids still attend soccer practice in Sweden while they are not even allowed outside in Spain. As governments and scientists fumble around, still struggling with so many unknowns, individuals are being left to take potentially life-affecting decisions.

In Georgia, David Huynh had 60 clients booked for appointments at his nail salon in Savannah, but a clothing store, jewelry shop and chocolatier that share a street corner with his downtown business, Envy Nail Bar, remained closed as he opened.

“The phone’s been staying ringing off the hook,” Huynh said. “We’ve probably gotten hundreds of calls in the last hour.”

Four women clutching face masks were waiting outside when the nail salon opened for the first time since March 26.

“Yes, I am ready to get my nails fixed,” said Alina Davis, a police officer for the local school system, who kept working throughout the crisis.

Meanwhile, Nikki Thomas is overdue for a visit to her hair stylist, but she’s barely ventured outside her house in the six weeks since her employer, an Atlanta advertising company, mandated working from home on March 12, and she had no plans to change that now just because of Kemp’s decision.

“It’s obviously extremely stupid and I’m simultaneously exhausted and so angry I can barely see straight,” Thomas, 40, said in a phone interview.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lengthened her stay-at-home order through May 15, while lifting restrictions so some businesses can reopen and the public can participate in outdoor activities like golf and motorized boating during the coronavirus pandemic.

Michigan has nearly 3,000 deaths related to COVID-19, behind only New York and New Jersey among U.S. states.

In France, the government is leaving families to decide whether to keep children at home or send them back to class when the nationwide lockdown, in place since March 17, starts to be eased May 11.

In Spain, parents face a similarly knotty decision: whether to let kids get their first fresh air in weeks when the country starts Sunday to ease the total ban on letting them outside. Even then, they will still have to abide by a “1-1-1” rule: no more than one hour per day, within a few minutes walk of their house and with no more than one supervising adult.

The slowing of Spain’s horrific outbreak, which has killed more than 22,500 people, made the prospect of letting kids out feasible. For the first time Friday, Spanish health authorities counted more people recovering from the disease in a 24-hour span than new infections.

The imperative to reopen is largely driven by economics, with lockdowns bleeding companies and government coffers of cash. In a trend seen around the globe, roughly 26 million Americans have filed for jobless aid in five weeks, pushing unemployment to levels last seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s and raising the stakes over how and when to ease shutdowns of factories and other businesses.

Shutdown hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes in Germany placed empty chairs in streets and squares Friday to highlight their economic suffering. The prospect of sipping wine on a Paris sidewalk also is still far off: French authorities announced that restaurants, bars and cafes won’t reopen before June.

For many of the world’s poor, without social safety nets, idling at home or home-schooling kids with online classes are luxuries beyond reach.

Even in the world’s wealthiest countries, reopening too much, too fast raises the possibility of new infection spikes that again overwhelm hospital ICUs.

Japan initially seemed to have controlled its outbreak by going after clusters of infections. But on Friday, Japanese medical experts issued a stark warning that the country’s emergency medicine resources are reaching a breaking point amid dire equipment shortages.

The coronavirus has killed more than 190,000 people worldwide, including more than 100,000 in Europe, according to the John Hopkins University tally. New cases are surging in Africa and Latin America as outbreaks subside in some places that were hit earlier.

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