On Mother's Day, world leaders try optimistic tone as coronavirus spreads

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Many families around the world celebrated Mother’s Day weekend from afar, delaying or changing their normal plans.

As families in the U.S. and elsewhere marked Mother’s Day in a time of social distancing and the isolation of quarantine because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused particular suffering for the elderly and previously sick, world leaders projected optimism they could loosen lockdowns while controlling a potential second wave of infections.

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Matilda Cuomo, the mother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, called into her son’s daily briefing so he and his three daughters could wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

“I am so blessed as many mothers today are,” she said.

Andrew Cuomo, whose state is the deadliest hot spot for the virus in the U.S., said he looked forward to getting back to normal. “We’re going to have fun, and then you can spend more time with me. I know I am your favorite,” he said in a playful dig at his siblings.

Cuomo has been criticized by some for not doing enough to counter the surge of deaths in nursing homes, where about 5,300 residents have died. He announced Sunday that all nursing home staff in New York will have to undergo COVID-19 tests twice a week.

The U.S. has seen 1.3 million infections and nearly 80,000 deaths — the most in the world by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. debate over easing lockdowns has polarized along partisan lines as over 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment and business activity has ground to a halt.

The director of the University of Washington institute that created a White House-endorsed coronavirus model said states’ moves to reopen businesses “will translate into more cases and deaths in 10 days from now.” Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said states where cases and deaths are going up more than expected include Illinois, Arizona, Florida and California.

“We’re risking a backslide that will be intolerable,” said Dr. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity.

Lipkin said he is most worried about two things: the reopening of bars, where people crowd together and lose their inhibitions, and large gatherings such as sporting events, concerts and plays. Preventing outbreaks will require aggressive contact tracing powered by armies of public health workers hundreds of thousands of people strong, which the U.S. doesn’t yet have, Lipkin said.

“If we relax these measures without having the proper public health safeguards in place, we can expect many more cases and, unfortunately, more deaths,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.

Worldwide, 4 million people have been reported infected and nearly 280,000 have died, over half of them in Europe, according to Johns Hopkins.

Across Europe, many nations were easing lockdowns even as they prepared to clamp down on any new infections.

Later Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to announce a 14-day quarantine for all travelers coming to the U.K., except those from Ireland, as he reveals a “road map” for the country that has the most official virus deaths in Europe at over 31,600. His Conservative government was criticized for being slow to react to the pandemic, but after falling ill with the virus himself, Johnson has taken a tougher line.

Aviation and travel industry groups already have protested the expected measures as devastating to the British economy.

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China reported 14 new cases Sunday, its first double-digit rise in 10 days. Eleven of 12 domestic infections were in the northeastern province of Jilin, prompting authorities to raise the threat level in one of its counties, Shulan, to high risk, just days after downgrading all regions to low risk.

Authorities said the Shulan outbreak originated with a 45-year-old woman who had no recent travel or exposure history but spread it to her husband, three sisters and other relatives. Train services in the county were suspended.

“Epidemic control and prevention is a serious and complicated matter, and local authorities should never be overly optimistic, war-weary or off-guard,” said Jilin Communist Party secretary Bayin Chaolu.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.