China eases measures as world cases balloon

BEIJING (AP) – As the rest of the world mobilised to fight the widening coronavirus pandemic yesterday, China continued to ease up lockdown measures in its hardest-hit region, where the number of new cases has dwindled. The virus that first emerged in central China late last year has in recent weeks spread exponentially in the Middle East, Europe and North America, leading President Donald Trump to declare a state of emergency for the United States (US) on Friday.

With hopes of quick containment dashed, dozens of countries have imposed increasingly severe measures over the past couple days – shutting borders, closing school for tens of millions of children and ordering tens of thousands of businesses to close their doors – to try to face down the disease.

New Zealand yesterday announced all incoming passengers, including New Zealand citizens, will be required to isolate themselves for 14 days, with few exceptions.

The steps being implemented globally increasingly mirror those taken by China, which in January made the unprecedented decision to halt outbound transportation from cities with a combined population of more than 60 million people, starting with the epicentre of Wuhan in the central province of Hubei.

The spread of COVID-19 in the country has slowed dramatically, according to China’s National Health Commission. Whereas the commission reported thousands of new cases daily only one month prior, it said yesterday that there were 13 new deaths and just 11 new cases, including people who recently arrived in China from other affected countries like Italy. More than 65,000 people have recovered from the disease in China.

A girl plays with her father in a park in Beijing. PHOTO: AFP

The government of Hubei lowered its health risk assessments for all counties in the province outside of Wuhan, which is the only city that remains “high-risk”.

Several Hubei municipalities are gradually resuming public transportation services and re-opening businesses.

Waning outbreaks in Asia stand in contrast with an escalating number of infections elsewhere.

In the US, which reported its 50th death from the outbreak on Friday, Trump said the new emergency decree will open up USD50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak. Cases topped 1,700 across the US, where thousands of schools have been closed, concerts and sporting events cancelled and even Broadway theatres shut down.

Trump has halted his trademark political rallies, following the lead of Democratic rivals Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

New Zealand’s new measures, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called some of the toughest border restrictions in the world, go into effect tomorrow.

The only countries exempt from the restrictions are a handful of Pacific islands which haven’t yet had any cases of COVID-19. New Zealand has had only six confirmed cases of the illness.

The head of the World Health Organisation said Europe was now the “epicentre of the pandemic”.Reflecting that reality, the government of the Czech Republic made a middle of the night announcement ordering retail businesses including shopping malls to close as of yesterday morning.

New infections in Italy soared on Friday by more than 2,500 and virus-related deaths made their biggest single-day jump there, increasing by 250.

New infections also rose sharply in Spain, and the government put 60,000 people in four towns on a mandatory lockdown on Friday that echoed Italy’s.

In just 24 hours, the numbers of confirmed cases spiked ominously in some places: France saw an additional 800 cases to reach more than 3,600 by Friday; Britain went from 590 to 798 and New York state jumped 30 per cent, hitting 421.