Wuhan re-opens amid global deaths surge
Thousands streamed out of the Chinese city of Wuhan Wednesday after a lockdown on the birthplace of the coronavirus was lifted, offering a ray of hope even as Europe and the United States faced rising deaths and crippling economic pain.
In the US, nearly 2,000 people infected with the new coronavirus died in the last 24 hours, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The record daily figure of 1,939 brings the total number of deaths in the US to 12,722, which is approaching tolls in the worst-hit countries so far—Italy with 17,127 dead and Spain with 13,798.
As Wuhan reawakens, Western countries remain in the throes of a crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 83,000 people worldwide and forced around half of humanity into some form of lockdown. Global infections stood at 1,447,466 on Wednesday.
The hardest-hit countries, among them Italy, Spain, France and the US, are grappling with how to balance public safety with the devastating impact of shutdowns that have erased millions of jobs and sent financial markets plunging.
In an alarming calculation of the economic costs, the French economy recorded its worst performance since 1945 during the first quarter, shrinking some six percent.
Germany’s economy, the biggest in Europe, is also expected to fall into a “serious recession” and shrink by nearly 10 percent in the second quarter, leading researchers warned.
Yet health experts stressed it is too early to loosen restrictions that could accelerate the spread of a disease that has infiltrated every layer of society, from refugees to royals to Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who entered his third day in intensive care.
“Now is not the time to relax measures. It is the time to once again double and triple our collective efforts to drive towards suppression with the whole support of society,” said the World Health Organisation’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge.
In the ground-zero city of Wuhan, who led the world with its unprecedented lockdown, strict measures appeared to have paid off.
After a nearly 11-week travel ban was finally lifted, tens of thousands of people fled the city in joyous scenes that contrasted with the macabre mood around much of the world—even if some passengers were travelling in hazmat suits.
“I’ve been stuck for 77 days! I’ve been stuck for 77 days!” shouted one man, who arrived at the railway station for a train back to his home province of Hunan.
Yet not all is back to normal, with schools still closed and travel discouraged.
The mood was far bleaker in the US, where the country mourned another 1,939 deaths over a period of 24 hours.
President Donald Trump lashed out at the WHO, accusing it of a pro-Beijing bias as he threatened to cut funding.
The US president has criticised China’s handling of the pandemic and questioned the accuracy of official statistics that show its deaths have slowed to a trickle.
Yet Trump himself has also come under fire for initially downplaying the virus by likening it to the flu and failing to adequately prepare the country’s hospitals.
Medical staff around the world are working tirelessly in brimming intensive care units and makeshift hospitals erected in sports stadiums, on ships and even in an New York cathedral.
In Spain, home to the world’s second deadliest outbreak, another 757 deaths were reported Wednesday, bringing the toll up for a second day after several days of decline.
Hundreds are still dying daily in devastated Italy although the peak of the crisis appears to have passed, with the rise of infections hitting a new low.
Britain, meanwhile, is bracing for its most agonising days after another record 786 more deaths on Tuesday, while the prime minister’s hospitalisation underscored the seriousness of the disease for many in a country that was slow to react.
In Dubai, marriages and divorces have been suspended “until further notice” to avoid gatherings that could spread the disease.
Dubai’s justice department said Wednesday that the decision was among the “measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic” rolled out in the emirate which is under a strict lockdown.
The United Arab Emirates has recorded more than 2,000 cases of the coronavirus, and 12 deaths.
All citizens and residents other than those in essential services require a permit to leave their homes. -AFP