SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea reported fewer than 10 new coronavirus cases Sunday for the first time in two months as U.S. governors ease lockdowns amid pressure worldwide from businesses and the public to limit the pandemic's economic damage.
In Brazil, hundreds of people protested in major cities against anti-virus lockdowns. France reported a decline in numbers of intensive care patients but its health agency warned the public to stick to strict isolation measures.
The pandemic that began in central China in December is believed to have infected more than 2.3 million people worldwide. While most recover, at least 155,000 have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University based on figures supplied by health authorities around the globe.
South Korea reported eight new cases, raising its total to 10,661 with 234 deaths.
South Korea’s toll of new cases has fallen from a peak of 909 on Feb. 29. But officials warn of the possibility of a “quiet spread” as people relax social distancing.
“We must not loosen our guard until the last confirmed patient is recovered,” President Moon Jae-in said Sunday.
China reported 16 new cases and no deaths in the 24 hours through midnight Saturday. That raised the official fatality toll to 4,632 — some three-quarters of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged — among 82,735 confirmed cases.
Governments face pressure to reopen factories, shops, travel and public activities even as numbers of infections rise in the United States and some other countries.
Shutdowns that began in China in late January and spread to the U.S., Europe and elsewhere have wiped out millions of jobs, plunging the world into its most painful economic slump since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The International Monetary Fund expects the global economy to contract by an unprecedented 3% this year — a far bigger loss than 2009's 0.1% after the global financial crisis.
South Korea's Moon called for “public solidarity” to revitalize the economy. “Government efforts alone aren’t enough,” he said.
On Saturday, Trump supporters protested in several states demanding governors end controls on public activity even as new case numbers surge.
The president on Twitter urged his supporters to “liberate” three states with Democratic governors.
Texas, Indiana and some other states have announced plans to allow some retailing and other activity to resume. Florida and South Carolina are reopening beaches.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has criticized the federal response as inadequate, rejected pressure to reopen businesses.
New York's daily death toll fell below 550 on Saturday for the first time in two weeks, but Cuomo said hospitals are reporting nearly 2,000 new patients a day.
“We are not at a point when we are going to be reopening anything immediately,” Cuomo told reporters.
Trump, whose administration waited months to add to stockpiles of key medical supplies and equipment, appeared to support protesters.
“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, ” Trump said on Twitter. He lashed out at Cuomo, saying he “should spend more time ‘doing’ and less time ‘complaining.’”
Massachusetts had its highest single-day death toll of 159 on Friday. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, citing health experts’ advice, said states should wait until infection rates and hospitalizations decline for about two weeks before acting.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has criticized anti-virus shutdowns imposed by state governors, said Saturday he would recommend reopening its borders with Paraguay and Uruguay.
Bolsonaro has downplayed the threat of the disease. On Friday, the president fired his health minister, who supported anti-disease controls, and indicated he expects the new minister to protect the economy.
Trump is pushing to relax the U.S. lockdown by May 1, a plan that hinges partly on more testing.
Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, a trip aimed at showing the country is on course to gradually reopen.
In Texas, several hundred people outside the state Capitol chanted “Let us work!” Many clamored for an immediate lifting of restrictions in a state where more than 1 million have filed for unemployment.
In Indianapolis, more than 200 people stood close together outside the governor’s mansion, carrying American flags and signs demanding that Gov. Eric Holcomb lift restrictions.
Indiana’s state health department reported 529 new cases between April 7 and midday Friday, raising the total to more than 10,600. The number of deaths rose by 26, to 545.
Elsewhere, demonstrators waved signs outside the Statehouse in New Hampshire, which has had nearly 1,300 cases and more than three dozen deaths.
“Even if the virus were 10 times as dangerous as it is, I still wouldn’t stay inside my home,” said one of the protesters, talk show host Ian Freeman.
In Asia, Singapore on Saturday reported a one-day spike of 942 infections, the highest in Southeast Asia, mostly among foreign workers staying in crowded dormitories. That brought the total to almost 6,000 in the island nation of 6 million people.
South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 8,042 patients have recovered and been released from quarantine. Another 12,243 were being tested.
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Saturday authorities could soon announce guidelines to replace the country's social distancing campaign.
However, health experts have called for vigilance, citing a steady rise in infections in densely populated Seoul and cases from international arrivals. Kim warned a quick return to normal activity will be impossible.
In Europe, there are tentative signs anti-disease curbs are working.
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France and Spain started dismantling some field hospitals. The number of active cases in Germany has declined over the past week as people recover.
Despite that, France's health agency urged the public to stick to confinement measures that have been extended until at least May 11: “Don’t relax our efforts at the moment when confinement is bearing fruit.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said his government wants to extend a state of emergency to May 9 but begin easing the total confinement of children beginning April 27.
Sanchez said the national lockdown will be rolled back only when Spain's embattled health system is ready for a possible rebound in infections.