Britain was expected to extend its nationwide lockdown on Thursday, but the European country hit hardest by the coronavirus plans cautiously to ease some restrictions on economic and social activity next week as it tries to reopen without sparking a devastating second wave of infections.
Authorities in many countries are drawing up plans for how to cope with a resurgence in outbreaks even as they slowly work to reopen businesses and resume other activity halted to combat the pandemic.
In Germany, which has begun to emerge from lockdown, authorities have begun drawing up plans to cope with any resurgence of the virus and experts in Italy doubled down on finding new victims and tracing their contacts. France, which hasn't yet eased its lockdown, has already worked up a "reconfinement plan" in the event of a new wave.
The U.K.'s official COVID-19 death toll stands at 30,076, second only to the United States, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would be a "disaster" if the U.K. reopened too soon and triggered a second spike in infections.
The U.K. government has said gradual loosening measures will include more road space to walk and cycle while maintaining social distancing, and encouragement for sectors including construction to get back to work.
China, where the virus emerged late last year, declared its coronavirus risk level is now low. China's National Health Administration reported just two new cases on Thursday, both from overseas, and said the whole country now is at low risk of further infections after confirming no new deaths from COVID-19 in more than three weeks.
Strict social distancing also appears to have vanquished the outbreak in the remote island nation of New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined plans for further relaxing lockdown rules, with a decision coming perhaps next week.
New Zealand would keep its borders shut, restrict gatherings to 100 people or less and hold professional sports events without spectators. Masks and other precautions would be required as restaurants and schools reopen, she said. But Ardern called for vigilance.
"We think of ourselves as halfway down Everest," Ardern said. "I think it's clear that no one wants to hike back up that peak."
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 3.6 million people and killed over a quarter-million, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, which experts agree understates the dimensions of the pandemic because of limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by some governments.
Public health officials in the U.S. say they are worried as about half of states ease their shutdowns, with cellphone data showing that people are becoming restless and increasingly leaving home.
Newly confirmed infections per day in the U.S. exceed 20,000, and deaths per day are running well over 1,000.
Researchers recently doubled their projection of deaths in the U.S. to about 134,000 through early August. So far the U.S. has recorded over 70,000 deaths and 1.2 million confirmed infections, while Europe has reported over 140,000 dead.
A century ago, the Spanish flu epidemic's second wave was far deadlier than its first, in part because authorities allowed mass gatherings from Philadelphia to San Francisco.
—JILL LAWLESS, ELAINE KURTENBACH and CARLA K. JOHNSON
Main image by AP Photo/Vincent Thian