Coronavirus Cases almost 2M Worldwide, Few New Hot Spots

FILE PHOTO: People wear protective masks following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, during their morning commute in a station, in Hong Kong, China February 10, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: People wear protective masks following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, during their morning commute in a station, in Hong Kong, China February 10, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

The worldwide number of confirmed coronavirus cases hovered around 2 million on Monday. Even as the lack of fresh hotspots globally yielded a ray of optimism. Moreover, it fueled discussions about how some places might begin to reopen.

Meanwhile, officials around the world worried that halting quarantine and social-distancing measures could easily undo the hard-earned progress that those steps achieved in slowing the spread. The brunt of the disease has been felt most heavily in New York where death toll topped 10,000.

An online dashboard that tracks the global number of confirmed coronavirus cases, maintained by Johns Hopkins University, late Monday night showed the number of cases in the US approaching 683,000, with more than 2 million worldwide. The site was later adjusted to reflect nearly 582,000 cases in the US and 1.9 million cases worldwide. It was not immediately clear why the numbers changed, the Associated Press reported.

For its part; Spain permitted some workers to return to their jobs, while a hard-hit region of Italy loosened its lockdown restrictions.

Potential conflict

Governors on both coasts of the US announced that they would join forces to come up with a coordinated reopening at some point. This will set the stage for a potential conflict with President Donald Trump; who asserted that he is the ultimate decision-maker for determining how and when to reopen.

Trump continued those assertions during an afternoon White House briefing on Monday, pushing back against reporters' questions about whether the president or governors have the authority to ease the restrictions.

He said his administration has "a very good relationship" with the governors. However, "the federal government has absolute power" in that decision-making process if it chooses to exercise it. Hot spots may yet emerge as states lift stay-at-home orders, said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the University of Washington institute that created widely cited projections of virus-related deaths. He pointed to states where the number of COVID-19 cases is still climbing: Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida.

"Don't consider relaxing social distancing in the near term," Murray said he'd advise leaders in those states.

"You need to stay the course."

To date, some US infections have taken off like sparks starting fires, while others have sputtered out. Trevor Bedford, whose lab at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center tracks the pandemic using the virus's genetic code; acknowledges it's a "dice roll" that makes it hard to predict hot spots. When easing restrictions, people will not immediately dive back into their social connections, at least not without precautions, Bedford said.

Positive signs

In some European countries; officials pointed to positive signs as they began prepping for the reopening of largely shuttered economies and industries.

Italian authorities announced on Monday that there were 3,153 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours; approximately a 1.9% increase. That brings the country's overall toll of known cases to nearly 160,000. The day-to-day death toll, 566, however, was up, from the 431 new deaths registered on Sunday.

Hard-hit Spain

In hard-hit Spain, they permit workers to return to some factory and construction jobs as the government looked to restart manufacturing. Retail stores and services were still required to stay closed, and the government required office workers to keep working from home.

According to AP, some health experts and politicians argue that it's premature to ease the lockdown in a nation that has suffered more than 17,750 deaths and reported more than 170,000 infections, second only to the United States' 581,670 cases.

Health Minister Salvador Illa said Monday that he would proceed with "the utmost caution and prudence and always based on scientific evidence."

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