Spain and Austria allowed partial returns to work on Tuesday but Britain and France extended lockdowns to try to rein in a pandemic which the World Health Organisation warned had not yet peaked.
Nearly 2 million people globally have been infected and more than 1,20,000 have died in the most serious pandemic in a century. The epicentre has moved from China, where the virus first emerged in December, to the U.S., which now has the highest death toll at 23,568.
World leaders, in considering easing curbs, have to balance risks to health and the economy, as the lockdowns strangle supply lines and bring economic activity to a virtual halt.
The world economy is expected to shrink by 3% this year, the International Monetary Fund said, marking the steepest downturn since the Great Depression.
The World Health Organization said the number of new cases was easing in some parts of Europe, including Italy and Spain, but outbreaks were growing in Britain and Turkey.
“The overall world outbreak, 90% of cases are coming from Europe and the United States of America. So we are certainly not seeing the peak yet,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a briefing in Geneva.
But world stocks gained after Chinese trade data came in better than expected and as some countries partly lifted restrictions.
Some Spanish businesses, including construction and manufacturing, were allowed to restart. Shops, bars and public spaces are to stay closed until at least April 26.
Spain was flattening the curve on the graph, representing the rate of growth of the outbreak, Health Minister Salvador Illa said.
The overnight death toll rose to 567 on Tuesday from 517 a day earlier, but the country reported its lowest increase in new cases since March 18. Total deaths climbed to 18,056.
Some workers expressed concern that the relaxation of restrictions could trigger a new surge. But for Roberto Aguayo, a 50-year-old Barcelona construction worker, the restart came just in time.
“We really needed it, just when we were going to run out of food we returned to work,” he told Reuters.
Italy, which has the world’s second highest death toll of 20,465, maintained some tight restrictions on movement.
Denmark, one of the first European countries to shut down, will reopen day care centres and schools for children in first to fifth grade on April 15.
Thousands of shops across Austria reopened on Tuesday, but the government said it was “not out of the woods”.
Austria acted early to close schools, bars, theatres, restaurants, non-essential shops and other gathering places about four weeks ago. It has told the public to stay home.
Austria has reported 384 deaths in total, fewer than some larger European countries have been suffering each day. Hospitalisations have stabilised.
The death toll in U.K. rose to 12,107 on Monday. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said there would be no easing of lockdown measures when they come up for review this week. The Times newspaper said on Tuesday he would extend them until at least May 7.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday extended lockdown till May 11.
Russia may call in Army
Russia might need to call in the Army to help tackle the crisis, President Vladimir Putin said on Monday.
Moscow warned that the capital may run out of hospital beds in coming weeks.
China’s northeastern border province of Heilongjiang saw 79 imported cases on Monday, all Chinese citizens returning from Russia, State media said. Heilongjiang”s provincial authority said on Tuesday it would reward citizens as much as 5,000 yuan ($710) for handing over or reporting illegal immigrants.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who had predicted a return to work after Easter, defended his response to the coronavirus.
He said he did not intend to fire the leading U.S. health expert, who said that earlier intervention could have saved more lives.
Ten U.S. governors on the east and west coasts banded together on Monday in two regional pacts to coordinate gradual economic reopenings as the coronavirus crisis finally appeared to be ebbing.
At a contentious briefing with reporters, Mr. Trump said he had the ultimate authority to re-open the economy.
“The president of the United States calls the shots,” Mr. Trump said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would not abide by any order Mr. Trump might give to reopen his state in an unsafe manner during the coronavirus outbreak.
Health ministers from the Group of 20 major economies will speak by video conference on Sunday to address the outbreak’s impact.