US coronavirus outbreaks spur debate over personal freedoms

Miami, When the coronavirus flared in China this week, the country canceled flights, suspended reopenings and described the situation as “extremely grave.” With cases still rising in some U.S. states, local officials have balked at requiring people to wear masks.

In the United States, which has had the most reported cases and deaths than anywhere else, local authorities are grappling with balancing demands for constitutional rights and personal freedom with warnings from health officials that being lax will have deadly consequences.

China responded Wednesday to a new outbreak in Beijing by scrapping more than 60% of its flights to the capital, canceling classes and strengthening requirements for social distancing. It was a sharp retreat for the nation that only in March had declared victory over COVID-19, said an AP report.

“This has truly rung an alarm bell for us,” Party Secretary Cai Qi told a meeting of Beijing’s Communist Party Standing Committee.

In other countries where infections have flared, governments responded by again tightening restrictions.

But as U.S. states debate how and when to reopen parts of the economy amid surges in cases in places like Arizona, Florida and Montana, requiring even the use of masks has become a political and cultural debate, with some local officials defying pleas from doctors.

“Wearing masks decreases the shedding of this virus,” said Dr. Bill Saliski, a lung specialist at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama. “If this continues the way we’re going, we’re going to be overrun.”

Since the virus emerged in China late last year and spread worldwide, there have been more than 8.1 million confirmed cases and at least 443,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll is much higher. The U.S. has the most infections and deaths in the world, with a toll that neared 117,000 on Wednesday.

European nations, which embarked on a wide-scale reopening this week, watched with trepidation as the Americas struggled with the pandemic and new outbreaks were reported in Asia.