Even as coronavirus deaths mount across Europe and New York, the U.S. and other countries are starting to contemplate an exit strategy and thinking about a staggered and carefully calibrated easing of the restrictions designed to curb the scourge.

“To end the confinement, we’re not going to go from black to white; we’re going to go from black to gray,” top French epidemiologist Jean-François Delfraissy said in a radio interview.

At the same time, politicians and health officials warn that while deaths, hospitalizations and new infections may be leveling off in places like Italy and Spain, and even New York has seen encouraging signs amid the gloom, the crisis is far from over, and a catastrophic second wave could hit if countries let their guard down too soon. In a sharp reminder of the danger, New York state on Wednesday recorded its highest one-day increase in deaths, 779, for an overall death toll of almost 6,300.

The Chinese city at the heart of the global pandemic, Wuhan, reopened Wednesday after 76 days in lockdown. And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in intensive care with the coronavirus but is improving and sitting up in bed, a senior government minister said Wednesday, as the U.K. recorded its biggest spike in COVID-19 deaths to date. Johnson, the first world leader diagnosed with the disease, has spent two nights in the ICU at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London.

In other developments today:

  • The general who heads the Army Corps of Engineers says communities are running out of time to build new medical facilities for any overflow of coronavirus patients that local hospitals can’t handle. Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite tells reporters he believes the Corps will be done starting new projects in about a week. He says government leaders “have to think through the worst case and get ahead of it while they have time.”
  • The U.S. government is set to report another shocking level of unemployment claims Thursday even after nearly 10 million people applied for benefits in the previous two weeks because of business shutdowns from the coronavirus.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is telling House Democrats that direct deposits to Americans will begin next week under the coronavirus aid package.
  • As health officials around the world push to get more ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, some doctors are moving away from using the breathing machines when they can. The reason: Some hospitals have reported unusually high death rates for coronavirus patients on ventilators, and some doctors worry that the machines could be harming certain patients.
  • In a heartfelt plea for unity, the World Health Organization’s chief sought to rise above sharp criticism and threats of funding cuts from U.S. President Donald Trump over the agency’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. The vocal defense from the WHO Director-General came a day after Trump blasted the U.N. agency for being “China-centric.”
  • The outline of the next potential coronavirus aid package is taking shape as President Donald Trump seeks $250 billion for small businesses and Democrats propose tacking on another $250 billion for small communities, protective gear and food stamps. The question now is whether and how quickly Congress and the White House can agree to it.
  • Even as parishioners, followers and the faithful seek solace and strength from religious leaders in a time of pandemic, the list of those who have died includes more and more clergymen and women. The dreaded daily uptick is reflected worldwide as spiritual leaders in the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. are among the casualties.

For more summaries and full reports, please select from the articles below. Scroll further for helpful tips, charts tracking virus spread and more.

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