Coronavirus Pandemic: China reopens as rest of the world locks down

China reopens
Hubei, where Covid-19 emerged late in 2019, will allow healthy residents to leave the province from midnight, two months after they were ordered to stay indoors
 Barges and freight carriers are moored in the Yangtze River in this aerial photograph taken near Nantong, Jiangsu Province, China on Tuesday March 24 2020. Picture: BLOOMBERG/QILAI SHEN

Beijing — China announced an end to travel curbs on Tuesday at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, as governments around the world tightened lockdowns affecting 1.7-billion people in a desperate effort to slow the spread of the deadly disease.

Hubei, where the novel coronavirus emerged late in 2019, will allow healthy residents to leave the province from midnight, officials said, two months after they were ordered to stay indoors.

“We are celebrating today,” a female doctor surnamed Wu said.

“Every day, we saw the number of seriously ill patients decreasing, the situation improving, people being discharged from the hospital. The doctors and nurses are becoming more and more relaxed as the days go by. I am super happy!”

The relaxation of rules, which will not apply to the hardest-hit city of Wuhan until April 8, comes as SA, Britain and New Zealand joined nations in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Asia in declaring countrywide lockdowns in a bid to staunch the flow of new infections.

The extraordinary measures around the world continued to throw up horrifying tales; soldiers in Spain tasked with fighting the outbreak reported finding abandoned elderly people — some dead — at retirement homes.

And on the deserted streets of New York, one psychologist who ventured out voiced fears about the long-term mental health of everyone affected.

“I'm scared for me and patients that this could go on” for months, said Lauren, who declined to give her surname.

Anxiety and depression “all gets heightened at a time like this”, she added.

The financial effects of economies grinding to a halt continued to unnerve policymakers, who opened the spigots and flooded the markets with yet more cash — their latest effort to keep the wheels turning.

In the US, the Federal Reserve unveiled an unprecedented bond-buying programme, in a move not seen since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.

The Fed, which has already slashed interest rates to record lows, said it would buy unlimited amounts of Treasury debt and take steps to lend directly to small and medium-sized firms hammered by state lockdowns across the country.

Markets cheered the news, with Tokyo ending the day more than 7% and European bourses registering strong starts to the trading day.

The upswings came despite US politicians’ failure to sign off on a nearly $2-trillion package that President Donald Trump says is aimed at supporting ailing enterprises, and helicoptering cash to US families.

His opponents say the bill is too heavily weighted to bailing out big business.

The British government, which has faced accusations it dithered over the health crisis and needlessly allowed schools to remain open far longer than European counterparts, came into line on Monday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a three-week shutdown of “non-essential” shops and services and banned gatherings of more than two people.

“Stay at home,” Johnson said in a televised address, as he unveiled unprecedented peacetime measures.

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the global pandemic was clearly accelerating.

Tedros said it took 67 days from the beginning of the outbreak in China in December for the virus to infect the first 100,000 people worldwide.

In comparison, it required only 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000, he said.

Tedros acknowledged that many countries were struggling to take more aggressive measures because of a lack of resources but said “we are not helpless bystanders. We can change the trajectory of this pandemic”.

In the US, New York City was under lockdown, with its usual logjam commute now just a trickle of pharmacists, grocery store workers and medical staff.

But Donald Trump — who faces re-election in November and is keen to avoid extended economic damage in the US — told reporters he would soon be “opening up our country to business because our country was meant to be open”.

China's authoritarian government has trumpeted its response to the crisis since doctors began to get a handle on cases of Covid-19, and on Tuesday state media proudly reported that a popular section of the Great Wall would reopen.

Visitors have to wear a mask and stay a metre from everyone else, media said.

Overall, China had 78 new infections on Tuesday, the vast majority brought in from overseas.

Meanwhile pressure was growing on the International Olympic Committee to speed up its decision about postponing the Tokyo Games as athletes criticised the four-week deadline and the US joined calls to delay the competition.

A growing group of national Olympic committees and sports bodies including World Athletics have called for the Games, set to start on July 24, to be pushed back — an outcome that now appears inevitable.

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