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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The global coronavirus crisis is entering a trial-and-error phase as countries begin to tiptoe out of lockdown.

Why it matters: The decisions of what to open and when could determine whether economies stay afloat, and whether fresh lockdowns will be needed if cases spike again. U.S. states now considering their own exit strategies will be watching closely.

Driving the news: Europe led much of the world into lockdown, and is now attempting to find a path out.

  • Denmark started by opening grade schools and day care centers. Some parents rejoiced, but others resisted (the Facebook group "My Child Will Not Be a Guinea Pig for COVID-19" has 40,000 members).
  • Germany's small shops and car dealers reopened this week, but beauty salons will wait until May 4 and restaurants possibly much longer. Students will return to school in waves, beginning with those taking exams. Religious services and other large events won’t return until Aug. 31.
  • Austria's approach is similar but somewhat expedited (bars and churches can open May 15). It will be implemented in two-week increments to allow time to track new cases.

In the hardest-hit countries, the opening will be slower.

  • Spain is finally letting children outside after forcing them to remain home for five weeks. The strict lockdown remains in place, but factories and construction can resume.
  • Italy has phased in some manufacturing, and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Wednesday that the world's longest-running lockdown could begin to ease on May 4.
  • France won’t lift its lockdown until May 11 to give the government time to build up testing capacity and medical supplies.
  • The U.K. has resisted calls to release an exit strategy. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the country had “sacrificed far too much to ease up now.”

Elsewhere in the world, strategies are emerging to re-open economies while limiting potential second waves — including some that use tracking policies that are likely too invasive to be useful as models for the U.S.

  • Chile plans to issue "immunity passports" to allow those who've recovered from coronavirus to return to work. European countries may follow suit once large-scale antibody testing is available — though the passports could also provide a perverse incentive to become infected, and it's unclear how long immunity lasts.
  • South Korea uses cell phone data to track down those exposed to the virus, and is now issuing electronic wristbands to ensure that those ordered to self-quarantine remain home.
  • In China, people are required to show authorities a cell phone app to confirm they haven't been deemed a contagion risk. China, like several other countries, has also tightened border controls to avoid importing new cases.
  • Singapore and Japan may show the dangers of easing up too soon. Both countries successfully contained initial outbreaks, but have since seen case counts climb.

The bottom line: Countries generally agree that social distancing must continue, and special precautions are needed for the elderly and at-risk. But the varying approaches, particularly on schools, underline how much we still don’t know about the virus and how it spreads, even as we loosen our protections against it.

Go deeper

Updated Jul 31, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus testing still can't keep up with demand

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Testing is once again becoming a critical weakness in the America's response to the coronavirus pandemic, and experts say we may need to revive tighter standards about who can get a test.

Why it matters: Although testing has gotten a lot better over the course of the pandemic, the pandemic has gotten worse, and that means the U.S. needs to prioritize its resources — which might mean that frequent testing solely to help open businesses or schools just isn't feasible.

Updated 22 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers — U.S. on the lookout for Omicron casesFDA panel backs Merck's antiviral COVID pill.
  2. Politics: Biden says fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns" — Two federal judges temporarily block Biden vaccine mandates.
  3. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Pentagon denies Oklahoma National Guard request for exemption from vaccine mandate.
  4. World: Omicron variant detected in more countriesWHO advises people 60 or older to postpone travel due to Omicron — COVID-19 "radically altered mobility" globally, UN says.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Jul 30, 2020 - World

Coronavirus bounces back where it had been knocked out

A glum harbor ride in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Wallace. AFP via Getty.

This week has seen a number of worrying headlines from countries initially viewed as major pandemic success stories.

Why it matters: After enormous sacrifices made to prevent or contain widespread outbreaks, countries are grappling with the challenge of preserving that success without daily life, and the economy, grinding to a halt once again.