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World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Wednesday that countries lifting restrictions to control the spread of the coronavirus risk having to reimpose them if they do not ease them with extreme caution.
"The risk of returning to lockdown remains very real if countries do not manage the transition extremely carefully and in a phased approach," the director-general said at a coronavirus briefing in Geneva.
Tedros said countries must undertake a series of steps before lifting travel restrictions and other virus control measures including having surveillance control programs in place and ensuring health system readiness.
He cautioned without robust health care systems, it would be impossible for a return to normalcy after the pandemic wanes, saying, "The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually recede but there can be no going back to business as usual." COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
As India began lifting restrictions this week, the death toll and number of infections rose sharply as the virus spread more aggressively after people returned to the streets.
India, a nation of 1.3 billion people, has a much lower per capita infection rate than many other nations, including several European countries and the United States, thanks to stringent lockdown measures. The daily death toll, however, has soared from a few dozen about three weeks ago to more than 100. India currently has 52,340 confirmed cases and 1,768 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracking site.
Brazil and the U.S. are also struggling to combat the virus, indications that much remains to be done.
Sao Luis, a Brazilian city of nearly one million people, and parts of three other municipalities in the Maranhao state, have been put on complete lockdown for the first time. The lockdown was imposed on concern the health care system could soon collapse in the country, Latin America's hardest-hit by far. Maranhao Governor Flavio Dino said 95% of intensive care beds in state-run public hospitals are occupied.
An analysis by the Associated Press found that U.S. infection rates are climbing outside hard-hit New York City, particularly in rural areas.
"Make no mistakes: This virus is still circulating in our community, perhaps even more now than in previous weeks," said Linda Ochs, the health department director in Shawnee County, Kansas, a midwestern U.S. state.
In a poor area in the southeastern U.S. state of Georgia, the per capita death rates have soared to among the highest in the country. Of the 10 counties with the highest death rate per capita in the U.S., half are in rural southwest Georgia.
Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta say coronavirus patients are faring worse than almost anywhere else in America. People in rural communities and African-Americans, who make up large segments of the population in the area, are more likely to be employed in jobs not conducive to social distancing and have historically had less access to health care.
Seven rural hospitals in the state have shut down over past decade. The Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals says nine counties don't have a physician.
The virus has infected more than 3.7 million and killed nearly 260,000 people worldwide, according to totals compiled by the Johns Hopkins University. Experts universally agree the figures are actually higher because of limited testing, different methods of counting fatalities and of the suppression of figures by some governments.
The U.S. leads the world by far in both infections, with more than 1.2 million, and deaths, which have exceeded 71,980. The number of new confirmed cases in the U.S. continues to rise by more than 20,000 per day and daily death tolls are between 1,000 and 2,000 people.
President Donald Trump said Wednesday his COVID-19 task force would keep working but concentrate more on restarting the economy. Vice President Mike Pence said the day before that the White House was planning to shut down the task force in about a month, calling the move "a reflection of the tremendous progress we've made as a country."
A White House official acknowledged, however, that announcing plans to shut down the task force had sent the wrong message and sparked a media firestorm.
The coronavirus pandemic halted economies the world over as governments told people to stay home in order to prevent further spreading of the infection.
European leaders have generally waited for the number of infections in their countries to decline before relaxing tough lockdowns, a process that is currently under way in much of the European Union.
Germany warned it would reimpose restrictions if new cases could not be contained. Authorities have begun making plans for a resurgence of the virus.
The head of head of Germany's national disease control center, Lothar Wieler, said scientists "know with great certainty that there will be a second wave" of infections. Wieler said, though, that Germany is prepared to handle it deal with it.
Germany has been praised for its widespread testing and had one-fourth the number of deaths in Italy or Britain, which have smaller populations.
While people are being allowed to return to work in some sectors, and more shops and restaurants are being allowed to operate, governments are still mandating that people wear face masks and maintain social distancing amid fears that easing restrictions will bring a second wave of infections.