SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Saturday reported 18 new coronavirus cases after a spate of infections prompted authorities to urge bars and nightclubs to close, while U.S. job losses surged and China prepared to reopen more schools.
The United States, Brazil and Italy wrestled with how to ease curbs on business and public activity. Others imposed new restrictions: Kuwait in the Middle East announced a nationwide lockdown from Sunday through May 30.
Worldwide, the virus has infected at least 3.9 million people and killed more than 270,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University based on data reported by governments.
A decline in new infections in South Korea and some other countries had prompted them to loosen controls that plunged the global economy into its worst slump since the 1930s.
South Korea urged nightclubs to close for a month after new cases jumped above 10 for the first time in five days. The government had eased social distancing guidelines and plans to start reopening schools Wednesday.
Most of the new Korean cases are linked to the Itaewon leisure district of the capital, Seoul, where a 29-year-old man visited three nightclubs before testing positive. The infections raised concern about a broader spread in Seoul, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government reported unemployment surged to its highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s, likely adding to conflict over when to ease restrictions that have closed businesses.
The Labor Department reported unemployment stood at 14.7% after some 20.5 million jobs vanished in April. The department, citing miscounting of some workers by its survey-takers, said the true rate probably was closer to 20%. Some economists said the total might be even higher at 23.6%, not far from the 1939 peak of 25%.
President Donald Trump, running for reelection during an economic slump, is pushing state governors to allow factories, restaurants and shops to reopen despite warnings that might lead to a deadly spike in infections.
Some states including Texas and South Carolina have allowed restaurants, hair salons and some other businesses to reopen. Others such as New York, the hardest-hit U.S. state, and Illinois want to see more progress in containing the disease before relaxing controls.
The Trump reelection campaign planned to hammer its opponent with negative ads while touting a strong economy. But Trump’s team is increasingly worried about key states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. More than one-fifth of Michigan’s workers are on unemployment.
Also Friday, Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary became the second person working at the White House to test positive for the virus. The first was a member of the military who works as Trump’s valet.
Washington is dispensing nearly $3 trillion to households and businesses, including relief checks of $1,200 per person and an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits.
China, where the pandemic began in December, announced plans to reopen more schools in its capital, Beijing.
More than 84,200 junior high school students and 13,200 teachers will return to class Monday, the city school authorities announced. Nearly 50,000 high school students went back to class April 27.
China was the first economy to shut down to fight the virus and the first to reopen after the ruling Communist Party declared the disease under control in March. Controls including checks for the virus’s telltale fever still are in place at apartment complexes and public buildings in the capital.
The ceremonial Chinese legislature is due to hold its annual session May 22, postponed from March. The government has yet to say how some 3,000 delegates will hold meetings.
In Europe, Britain’s environment minister said there will be no “dramatic overnight change” announced when Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a national address on Sunday.
Johnson is expected to explain how Britain, which has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, can ease the lockdown. Only minor changes such as allowing people to sunbathe in parks are anticipated.
The government will be “very, very cautious,” said the minister, George Eustice.
Italy’s government said it would to take legal action to stop a northern province, Bolzano, from reopening stores this weekend in defiance of a national plan to wait until later this month.
Italy has reported more than 217,000 virus cases and 30,200 deaths.
In Brazil, the country’s fifth-biggest city, Fortaleza, started a lockdown on Friday amid surging infections, even as President Jair Bolsonaro asked the Supreme Court to order states to roll back restrictions on business.
Fortaleza, capital of the state of Ceara in the northeast, will impose roadblocks and allow only essential services. Similar restrictions were imposed this week in the capitals of the states of Maranhao and Para.
Fortaleza, a city of 2.7 million people, has suffered 727 virus deaths. Authorities expect 4,000 by the end of May.
Brazil has more than 140,000 cases and 9,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.