More US states begin lifting virus lockdown orders

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Men sitting outside in GeorgiaImage source, Getty Images
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Some businesses have already been allowed to reopen in several states

More US states are beginning to lift lockdown orders even as US leaders say social distancing guidelines will be necessary throughout the summer.

But governors warn that life will not quickly return to normal, and that restrictions will remain in some places to keep the virus from resurging.

On Friday, the US saw its largest single-day spike in cases.

But the infection rate has dropped significantly in several hotspots, including New York, the US epicentre.

As of Tuesday, the US has over 994,000 recorded coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, and more than 56,700 deaths.

Public health experts warn that lifting restrictions too soon could cause a second wave of infections. The decision to end mandatory orders comes as over 26m Americans seek unemployment protection, and the jobless rate climbs to around 16% of the population.

Even as state governors allow orders to expire, some city mayors have issued their own separate plans to end local lockdowns rules.

How are states reopening?

At one point, over 90% of the US population was under mandatory lockdown orders, but some states began lifting orders over the weekend allowing some Americans to return to hair salons and tattoo parlours.

Georgia, Oklahoma, Alaska and South Carolina have already allowed some businesses to reopen. They and other states have issued plans that call for more rules to be relaxed in the coming week.

Colorado's Democratic Governor Jared Polis has said kerb-side retail pickup can begin on Monday, with hair salons, barbershop and tattoo parlours allowed to reopen on Friday.

Tennessee will allow restaurants to reopen on Monday, the same day that Mississippi's mandatory lockdown order expires.

Montana's governor has allowed churches to reopen starting on Sunday, with social distancing measures still required. Restaurants and schools will be allowed to reopen on 7 May.

Eight states led by Republican governors - Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming - never issued mandatory orders to stay at home.

Michigan's Democratic governor, who has angered protesters with her lockdown orders, told ABC News that it is too early to lift mandatory orders in the state.

Image source, Getty Images
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Beach-goers at California's Newport Beach on Saturday

"We've got to be nimble and we have to follow the science and be really smart about how we reengage," said Gov Gretchen Whitmer.

Despite a state-wide order to stay-at-home in California, thousands of people have flocked to beaches amid a heat wave.

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But officials in both Ventura and Orange Counties, where beaches are open, said most people were adhering to social distancing guidelines, including staying 6ft (2m) apart.

Many beaches are still closed, leading the sheriff of LA County to warn beach-goers that "enforcement is in full effect".

Texas' governor said he will not renew the states stay-at-home order when it expires on 30 April because it already "has done its job".

Republican Greg Abbott said on Monday that retail business as well as restaurants, cinemas and malls can reopen - but at only 25% capacity - starting on Friday.

Barbershops, hair salons, pubs and gyms cannot reopen until later in May, the governor said.

Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine, who has been praised for his virus response, said that non-essential surgery that does not require an overnight hospital stay can resume on 1 May.

On 4 May, offices can reopen and on 12 May retail business can resume.

"These are first steps," Mr DeWine said. "We've got to get moving."

What have officials said?

On Sunday, White House coronavirus taskforce co-ordinator Dr Deborah Birx said social distancing will remain the norm "through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases".

Her comments come after Vice-President Mike Pence said the virus would be largely "behind us" by the 25 May Memorial Day holiday, which signals the unofficial start of summertime in the US.

Dr Birx told Fox News this weekend that new cases and deaths "will be dramatically decreased by the end of May".

On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested some parts of his state could begin to reopen after the current stay-at-home order expires on 15 May.

The governor said that transmission rates, as well as death rates, would dictate how and when the state reopens.

He urged local officials to follow national health guidelines for reopening and work together regionally, saying: "You have to be smart about it - we all have to be smart about it."

Mr Cuomo also noted he would extend restrictions in many parts of the state. There are still 1,000 new Covid-19 cases confirmed each day in New York.

The death rate has dropped in New York, with 337 deaths on Sunday, compared to 367 deaths on Saturday and 437 on Friday. It represents the lowest increase since 30 March.