Monday, March 23, 2020

Wuhan eases coronavirus lockdown as restrictions intensify outside China

Wuhan, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak in China, has begun to loosen its two-month lockdown on citizens as more countries issued new restrictions to contain the pandemic.

Workers wearing face masks remove barriers on a street in Wuhan as the Chinese city has started to loosen its coronavirus lockdown Photograph: China Daily/Reuters

On Monday, small groups of residents in the central Chinese city were leaving their residential compounds, going to grocery stores and walking along the streets for the first time in weeks. At the weekend, the first train arrived in the city ferrying more than 1,000 workers from elsewhere in the province back to the city for work.


On Sunday, local authorities said residents could begin returning to work if they did not have a temperature and could provide a green health code, signifying their virus-free status as well as a certificate from their employer. Officials said the city would be “gradually” reopened and public transportation would resume.



Non-residents, those stranded in Wuhan since the stringent travel restrictions went into effect on 23 January, could also begin applying to leave the city, city authorities said.


Residents in Wuhan said only those from compounds deemed virus-free were allowed to leave and that citizens were still wary of going out onto the streets. “Everyone is being very careful,” said Iris Yao, 40, who has been in the city for the last two months.


Employee wearing a face mask feeds penguins at the Wuhan Zoo which has been closed following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus Photograph: China Daily/Reuters

While the officially reported number of locally transmitted infections in China has dropped dramatically over the last weeks, imported cases continue to rise.


On Monday, China reported 39 new cases from the previous day, all of which were from imported cases, according to the National Health Commission. On Sunday, China ordered that all international flights to Beijing to be diverted to other cities where passengers will be screened before continuing on to the capital. Shanghai and Guangzhou have said they will begin testing all international arrivals for the virus.


In another sign that normal life was starting to return in China, there were reports of traffic jams in Beijing on Monday morning.


There have now been over 81,000 cases in China, and the death toll has reached 3,270.


The loosening of restrictions in Wuhan came as other nations intensified their response to the virus. In the US, President Donald Trump activated the National Guard in New York, California and Washington state, three of the states hardest hit by Covid-19. Trump said additional supplies will also go the three states, including extra beds and facemasks.



Trump also said he had directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) to set up “medical stations” in those three states. He said: Four large medical stations with 1,000 beds for New York, eight large federal medical stations with 2,000 beds for California, and three large federal medical stations and four small federal medical stations with 1,000 beds for the state of Washington.”


The number of Covid-19 cases in the US has now gone past 33,000, with 417 deaths. New York is a major hotspot, with 5% of cases worldwide. Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York city, on Sunday said hospital supplies including ventilators, masks and surgical gloves would be exhausted within 10 days.


On Sunday evening the city faced shutdown after governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses in the state. Except for essential services, all New Yorkers were ordered to stay indoors from 8pm Sunday evening.


The closure came as Democrats blocked an economic stimulus package, claiming it favoured big business over the rights of workers. Trump has faced growing anger over his response to the outbreak. The president has tried to blunt criticism, saying help was on the way for states that need it.


By the end of Sunday, nearly one in three Americans was under orders to stay home as Ohio, Louisiana and Delaware became the latest states to enact broad restrictions.


On the other side of the Pacific, New Zealand’s prime minister announced the nation would go into lockdown on Wednesday for a month to stem the spread of the virus. As cases in the country rose past 100, Jacinda Ardern said she was not she was not willing to put the lives of her citizens in danger.


“The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable, it would represent the greatest loss of New Zealanders’ lives in our history and I will not take that chance,” she said while bringing in measures that exceed those in countries where the outbreak is more severe.


The nation was given two days to prepare for schools, businesses and community services to turn off the lights.


Ardern said it was established that community transmission was happening in New Zealand and that, if it took off, the number of cases would double every five days, with modelling advising the government that tens of thousands of New Zealanders could die.


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