The lockdown that served as a model for countries battling the coronavirus around the world ended after 11 weeks Wednesday. Chinese authorities are now allowing residents of Wuhan to once again travel in and out of the sprawling city where the pandemic began.
From just after midnight, the city’s 11 million residents are permitted to leave without special authorization as long as a mandatory smartphone application shows they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus. Wuhan is where most of China’s more than 82,000 reported virus cases and over 3,300 deaths took place.
The occasion was marked with a light show on either side of the broad Yangtze river, with skyscrapers and bridges radiating animated images of health workers aiding patients, along with one displaying the words “heroic city," a title bestowed on Wuhan by president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. Along the embankments and bridges, citizens waved flags, chanted “Wuhan, let’s go!” and sang a capella renditions of China’s national anthem.
It didn't take long for traffic to begin moving swiftly through the newly reopened bridges, tunnels and highway toll booths, while hundreds waited for the first trains and flights out of the city, many hoping to return to jobs elsewhere.
Restrictions in the city where most of China's more than 82,000 virus cases and over 3,300 deaths were reported have been gradually relaxed in recent weeks as the number of new cases steadily declined. The latest government figures reported Tuesday listed no new cases.
While there are questions about the veracity of China's count, the unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and its surrounding province of Hubei have been successful enough that countries around the world adopted similar measures.
Meanwhile, British government officials say Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in stable condition in a hospital intensive care unit with the coronavirus on Tuesday after being hospitalized late Sunday. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has taken over many of his duties temporarily, says Johnson was given oxygen but is breathing on his own without a ventilator. The 55-year-old Johnson is the first major world leader to be confirmed to have the virus. He was admitted to St. Thomas' Hospital late Sunday, 10 days after being diagnosed with COVID-19, and was moved to the ICU on Monday evening after his condition deteriorated. Raab said he was confident that Johnson would pull through, calling him “a fighter.”
More hopeful signs in Europe as Italy’s number of new coronavirus cases has continued to drop.
Civil Protection authorities said Tuesday there were 3,039 new cases in a 24-hour period. Italy hasn’t seen such a low daily number since the early weeks of the outbreak.
Said Giovanni Rezza, director of the infectious disease division of the national health institute: “Finally it seems we are beginning to see a lessening of new cases” after a plateau phase. He expressed satisfaction that even Italy’s most stricken region, Lombardy, is also witnessing the same trend.
Italy has 135,586 cases confirmed cases. After some 600 additional deaths were registered on Tuesday, Italy has counted 16,523 deaths in the COVID-19 outbreak.
The U.N.’s labor organization estimated Tuesday the equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs could be lost in the second quarter alone from the COVID-19 outbreak, with businesses and plants shuttered worldwide.
The projection from the International Labor Organization is based on an emerging impact of the virus, and it amounts to a big increase from its March 18 prediction for an extra 25 million jobs losses for all of 2020.
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder says, “These figures speak powerfully for themselves: That the world of work is suffering an absolutely extraordinary fall."
Japan’s prime minister on Tuesday declared a monthlong state of emergency for Tokyo and six other prefectures after a spike in infections there but it came in the form of a stay-at-home request — not an order — and violators will not be penalized. Japan has the world’s oldest population, a worrying target for a virus that has been killing the elderly at much higher rates than other age groups.
In New York and in some European hotspots, authorities were hoping that plateaus in deaths and new hospitalizations meant that key epicenters in the global pandemic were turning a corner.
In Spain, one of the world's hardest-hit countries, new deaths Tuesday rose to 743 and infections rose by 1,000 after five days of declines, but the increases reflected a weekend backlog. Authorities say slowing the contagion will be a long process but were confident in the downward trend.
As new coronavirus cases slowed in Italy and France, Portugal reported its lowest daily rise in new infections since the outbreak started. To keep up social distancing, Paris banned daytime jogging just as warm spring weather settled in for a week.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the first, faint signs the outbreak there may be nearing its peak. But h e cautioned against relaxing social distancing restrictions because of the enormous strains still faced by health care workers.
“This is a hospital system where we have our foot to the floor and the engine is at red line and you can’t go any faster,” Cuomo said.
The state has averaged just under 600 deaths daily for the past four days, a horrific toll that was still seen as a positive sign. Cuomo also said the number of new people entering New York hospitals daily has dropped, as has the number of critically ill patients needing ventilators.
The nation’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was cautiously optimistic, saying that in New York, "what we have been doing has been working."
Denmark planned to reopen schools next week for students up to 11 years old — a development that still felt impossibly distant elsewhere in the world.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte promised residents that they will soon “reap the fruit of these sacrifices” in personal liberties, though he declined to say when a nationwide lockdown would end. Italy has the world’s highest death toll — over 16,500 — but intensive care units in the north are no longer airlifting patients to other regions.
Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people have been confirmed infected and nearly 75,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different ways nations count the dead and deliberate underreporting by some governments.
Deaths in the U.S. neared 11,000, with more than 368,000 confirmed infections, while cases in Africa reached over 10,000.
For most people, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death. More than 285,000 people have recovered worldwide.
One of the main models on the outbreak, the University of Washington’s, is now projecting about 82,000 U.S. deaths through early August, or 12% fewer than previously forecast, with the highest number of daily deaths occurring on April 16. The model relies on much more robust data from Italy and Spain and from hospitals.
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One unusual lockdown exception was Wisconsin, which was asking hundreds of thousands of voters on Tuesday to ignore a stay-at-home order in the midst of a pandemic to participate in its presidential primary.
On the treatment front, South Korea said it will soon announce guidelines for hospitals on experimental coronavirus treatments using donated blood from patients who survived. A health official said the guide will be drawn from the country’s experiences with similar treatments on patients with the MERS virus.
China and Russia decided to close their land border and river port near the far-eastern city of Vladivostok following the discovery of 59 confirmed cases.
But as effective as the lockdowns may be, they come at a steep toll, especially for the poor.
In a housing complex in the Moroccan city of Sale, over 900 people live in crowded rooms without running water or incomes. While the North African country entered total lockdown in mid-March, self-isolation and social distancing are a luxury that few families in this complex can afford.
In Sale, children hang around the communal courtyard and run through narrow alleyways. Families share one room and fill buckets of water at public fountains. Warda, a mother of three, knows the risks but sees no alternatives.
“I am scared for my children. I have to lock them indoors and stay with them, but how am I supposed to feed them?” she asked.
Other nations also feared food shortages, with Cambodia’s leader ordering a ban on exports of rice and fish to ensure there are enough key staples during the coronavirus crisis.
Medical workers around the world still worried they were not being protected well enough against the virus, with doctors in Pakistan and Greece protesting Tuesday against a lack of protective equipment.
Pakistan's military promised Tuesday that dozens of doctors who were briefly jailed for protesting a lack of protective equipment needed to treat the growing number of coronavirus cases will get the equipment they need.
The 47 doctors protested in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, on Monday, when they were detained. They were released later the same day, according to provincial spokesman Liaquat Shahwani.
An army statement on Tuesday said the “emergency supplies of medical equipment, including PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are being dispatched to Quetta."
However, some of the doctors said they were mistreated by police and that some of their colleagues were beaten. The physicians declined to give their names, fearing reprisals.
Two doctors have died after contracting the new virus in Pakistan, which has recorded 4,004 cases and 54 deaths. Many of the cases have been traced to pilgrims returning from neighboring Iran. Pakistani authorities have imposed a countrywide lockdown until April 14.
In Iran, authorities struggling to battle the virus announced Tuesday they would expand testing to asymptomatic people, but didn't say how many test kits they have available or provide other details.
Iran's Health Minister Saeed Namaki said that with active screening of such cases, there are expectations the virus and COVID-19, the illness it causes, can be brought under control by mid-May.
“With this step, we will go after people without symptoms,” said Namaki, adding this would require a large number of tests. He didn’t elaborate. The health ministry said searching for asymptomatic cases would be combined with restrictions on both city and intercity travel and quarantine.
Iran is facing the worst outbreak in the region. Iran’s state TV said Tuesday the new coronavirus has killed another 133 people, pushing the country’s death toll to 3,872 amid 62,589 confirmed cases.
The health ministry’s spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, said 27,039 people have recovered so far while 3,987 remain in critical condition.
There are nearly 109,000 confirmed cases across the Middle East, with more than 4,600 fatalities.
In Egypt, the Ministry of Religious Endowments, which oversees mosques nationwide, called off all celebrations and late-evening prayer services for Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar. The holiday, when devout Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, begins April 23. To the dismay of many impoverished Egyptians already hit hard by restrictive measures, the ministry added that mosques would not host public iftars, the traditional dinners where Muslims end their daily fast.
Mosques and churches have already closed for prayer to curb the spread of the virus in the Arab world’s most populous country. There is also a nightly curfew but the government has resisted a harsher lockdown.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Tuesday sought to reassure the jittery public a day after officials reported 149 new infections, bringing the case count to 1,320 and 85 fatalities in the biggest single-day jump so far.
“So far, the situation is under control,” he said in televised comments. “The goal is to minimize the damage caused by the pandemic.”
The Egyptian military, at the forefront of the country's fight against the virus, said it set up four field hospitals with more than 500 beds to help treat virus patients.
Israel said Tuesday it would begin requiring face masks for most people in public places starting Sunday.
Meanwhile, at a retirement home ravaged by the coronavirus in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, another resident died, the eighth so far there. Dozens of the home's residents have been infected and relatives have been staging angry protests outside the premises in recent days.
Overall, more than 9,000 have been infected in Israel and 60 have died, the vast majority elderly and many in assisted living facilities.
In a move to boost spirits, New Zealand's leader clarified the definition of who are considered essential workers.
“You will be pleased to know that we do consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said just a few days before Easter Sunday.
Long reported from Washington and Hinnant reported from Paris. Associated Press writers around the world contributed.