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After crashing their economies in a virus-inspired panic, nations are beginning to feel their way back to something resembling normal.
These plans extend beyond purely financial measures, such as central bank bailout loans and suspension of mortgage payments.
Austria has become the first European country to say it will permit small retailers to gradually re-open after Easter. Denmark and Norway are bringing young children back to school. People in the Czech Republic can go swimming again.
The German government will decide on whether to begin reopening the country when the results of a medical analysis are released in the next few days, chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Italy, devastated by the virus, plans to keep people at home at least through April and then lift restrictions slowly.
“We have to rethink how we organize our social life, our manufacturing, our public health care system,” said Roberto Speranza, Italy’s minister of health. “It will be very gradual.”
While pressure remains on governments to keep people locked down to avoid virus contagion, counterpressures also are mounting to jump-start supply chains as people run low on food and other necessities and encounter the emotional turmoil caused by the absence of social contacts.
The Trump administration is working on plans to restart the economy no later than 1 June and business leaders are pushing for significant action by the end of April.
Public health officials are expected to oppose the plan, contending it risks lives before enough time has passed after the virus pandemic peaks. Administration officials argue, however, that supply chains need to begin to operate again, and a paralyzed economy poses different but equal health threats.
Trump is forming a council of his senior economic advisors, medical, and business people to lay out a plan to reopen the country.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the administration’s voice of caution in lifting the lockdown, said he could envision loosening restrictions on public gatherings this summer “if we do the things that we need to do to prevent a resurgence” of the virus.
Areas less affected by the virus, such as rural communities, could be opened back up first, while virus hotspots and dense urban areas could remain shut down longer.
Reviving the economy will depend on a sharp drop in new infections that would be followed widespread testing, such as the 15-minute virus test being developed by Abbott Laboratories. People who test as being virus-free or no longer contagious could be allowed to return to work.
Surveillance systems also should blanket the country to give early warning of any resurgence of the virus, public health officials say, and that governments should stand ready to reinstate social distancing and other preventive measures if the virus reappears.
Some analysts believe it will take several months to create the capacity to produce, conduct, and process tests quickly and in adequate quantity, and to stand up a workable surveillance system.
Governors are mulling the idea of asking Congress to legislate a national virus-monitoring system.
Indeed, state leaders are increasingly active in the absence of a detailed federal strategy.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo has assembled a team of former aides, who now are highly-placed corporate executives, to create a detailed, phased “NYS Forward” plan to restart the state’s economy.
Several of the state’s business owners have expressed anxiety about finding the capital to invest to re-hire workers, buy supplies, and pay delinquent bills.
Restarting businesses will depend on balancing raising capital with securing enough customers to make those investments profitable. Many business owners expect trade to pick up slowly, especially for businesses requiring close personal contact, such as restaurants and hotels.
The governors of Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York are coordinating a plan based on scaling up virtually instant testing to show who has the virus as well as who has had the virus and is not contagious. Once the tests are widely in use, industries and economic sectors would be allowed to back into operation.
Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island have now joined the partnership.
Public health officials are skeptical, arguing it would be too difficult to separate the vulnerable from potential carriers if activities return to normal too soon.
Also, Dr. Fauci has said it’s not necessarily the federal government’s job to organize and conduct tests. That role, he said, belongs to the private sector.
The governors of Utah and North Dakota, and officials in Colorado’s San Miguel County, have begun widespread testing for residents who wish it. The initiatives are part of a “proof of concept” that testing is a foundation for beginning to return to normal activities.
Texas and Maryland are putting together task forces to structure a plan to get their economies going again.
Germany’s ifo Institute for Economic Research urges that industries which add the greatest value to the economy, such as health care and vehicle manufacture, be prioritized to restart. It also pushes German authorities to re-open schools and nurseries, arguing that children rarely get sick from the virus, and parents need a place to put children so they can work.
Hotels and restaurants would be allowed to re-open “cautiously,” as social distancing is not strictly possible in them. Bars, nightclubs, and large events such as sports matches would remain shut indefinitely.
Areas that have seen less infection, such as rural locales, might see restrictions lifted earlier than more densely populated or hard-hit regions.
The scheme is predicated on massive testing and wide availability of masks and other protective equipment.
Countries now easing lockdowns were quick to mandate and enforce strict social distancing and to scale up widespread virus testing, said Dr. Peter Drobac, a global health expert at Britain’s Oxford Saïd Business School.
Countries planning to reopen their economies should have three things in place, Drobac added: a consistent reduction in new cases, the ability to handle new cases within the normal structure of their health care systems (not setting up emergency hospitals in sports stadiums, for example), and mass testing and contact tracing.
A study in The Lancet medical journal analyzed China’s epidemic urges that no lockdown should be lifted completely until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and deployed – an event that is likely to take at least 12 months under the best of conditions, according to medical experts.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Politicians call it a war on the coronavirus and they took us into this war the way they’ve taken us into so many others – without an exit strategy.
Politicians will still claim victory over the virus when the pandemic abates, even though they had to destroy national economies and millions of people’s livelihoods and futures to do it.
The U.S. plan to restart the economy is being put together, in part, by foreclosure king Steven Mnuchin, Lawrence Kudlow (“I’m not an economist, but I played one on TV”), and fashion expert Ivanka Trump, with final decisions being made by game-show host Donald Trump. Hang onto those canned goods.
TREND FORECAST: Politicians will face public anger and irresistible pressure to reopen the economy if lockdowns remain in place past May. Mayors and governors will begin to relent, especially as supplies of grocery and household staples run short.

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