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Many wary of virus reopenings as some US states loosen rules

ATLANTA – One of the grimmest symbols of the coronavirus outbreak — a morgue set up in a Madrid skating rink — closed on Wednesday as stores and other businesses reopened in places across Europe, while the U.S. was beset with increasingly partisan disagreements over how and when to restart its economy.

As some governors in the U.S. — largely Republican ones — moved to reopen an ever-wider variety of businesses, others took a more cautious approach and came under mounting pressure from protesters complaining that their livelihoods are being destroyed and their freedom of movement is being infringed on.

With the crisis easing but far from over in Europe, small shops in Berlin reopened, and restrictions were also relaxed in Denmark and Austria. In France, long lines formed outside the few McDonald’s drive-thrus that started serving customers again.

Still, many employees and customers were uneasy, suggesting that a return to normal is a long way off.

“Of course I’m happy that I can open again and we can keep our heads above water,” said Galina Hooge, who opened her small Berlin toy store for the first time in over a month. But she worried that some Germans aren’t taking the outbreak seriously.

“Relaxing the rules doesn’t mean that everything is over. It’s not over by a long stretch,” she said.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said “very careful steps” must be taken to keep the virus from making a resurgence. “What we want to avoid is falling back into the exponential spread of the virus that we had in the first phase of the pandemic,” he said.

Across the Atlantic in Savannah, Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp announced that gyms and salons can reopen this week, gym owner Mark Lebos said it would be professional negligence to do so right now.

“We are not going to be a vector of death and suffering,” he said.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, said that Kemp's decision “really defies logic.” With manicures, haircuts and massages, “the nature of the business is that you are in close contact with someone," she said on NBC's “Today” show.

The outbreak has infected over 2.5 million people and killed about 180,000 around the world, including more than 45,000 in the U.S., according to a tally compiled by Johns Hopkins University from official government figures, though the true numbers are believed to be far higher.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he is enlisting former Mayor Mike Bloomberg to help create a massive “tracing army” that will find infected people and get them into isolation. The death toll in the state climbed past 15,000, not counting nearly 4,900 deaths in New York City that are believed to have been caused by the virus but haven’t been confirmed by a lab test.

While some hot spots like Italy, Spain and New York have seen a drop in daily death tolls and new hospitalizations, other areas are facing a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Singapore, once a model of virus tracking and prevention, saw an explosion of new cases and announced it would extend its lockdown into June.

In California, health officials said two people with coronavirus died in the state weeks before the first reported U.S. death from the disease on Feb. 29 in Washington state. The finding adds to the evidence that the virus was circulating in the U.S. earlier than previously thought.

In North Carolina, where Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is keeping in place his stay-home order for at least another week, hundreds marched around the executive mansion on Tuesday. At the Missouri Capitol, several hundred with the same demands waved the American flag and chanted “USA! USA!”

And in Wisconsin, GOP legislative leaders asked the state Supreme Court to block an extension of the Democratic governor’s stay-home order.

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney in Washington state's hard-hit Seattle metro area said he won't enforce Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order because he believes it violates people's constitutional rights.

Spain, one of the world's worst-hit countries, planned to allow children out of their homes next week for the first time in nearly six weeks. The country’s death toll reached nearly 22,000, behind only the United States and Italy, after 435 more deaths were reported Wednesday. But the numbers reflected a plateauing of the outbreak.

In another hopeful sign in Spain, a large makeshift morgue at an ice rink closed. It held 1,145 bodies of coronavirus victims during its four weeks in operation.

“We were not able to save their lives, but let it be known that our armed forces have not left them alone for one minute,” Defense Minister Margarita Robles said.

India partially eased one of the world's strictest lockdowns this week but plans to use wristbands fitted with an app to track people's movements and body temperature. The technology is aimed at reducing the vast manpower needed to track the virus among the country's 1.3 billion people.

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Becatoros reported from Athens, Greece. AP journalists worldwide contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak