China virus epicentre to open up

Meanwhile, govts around the world tighten lockdowns affecting 1.7b people

By AFP

BEIJING • China announced yesterday an end to travel curbs 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 last year, 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 told AFP.

“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 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 over 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.

Residents cheering as members of a medical assistance team from Chongqing depart after helping with the Covid-19 recovery effort in central Hubei

The financial impact 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 (Fed) 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 will 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% higher and European bourses registering strong starts to the trading day.

The upswings came despite US politicians’ failure to sign off on a nearly US$2 trillion (RM8.86 trillion) package that President Donald Trump said is aimed at supporting ailing enterprises, and helicoptering cash to American families.

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

The number of coronavirus deaths has topped 16,700 (at press time), with more than 380,000 declared infections in 190 over countries and territories, according to an AFP tally. New infections in the continent’s hardest-hit country dipped to just shy of 5,000, down from over 6,500 on Saturday.

Its daily death toll also fell slightly, although cumulatively the country has recorded more than 6,000 fatalities, far-exceeding even that of China.

China’s authoritarian government has trumpeted its response to the crisis since doctors began to get a handle on cases of Covid-19, and yesterday stated media proudly reported that a popular section of the Great Wall would re-open.

Visitors have to wear a mask and stay a metre from everyone else, media said. Overall, China had 78 new infections yesterday the vast majority brought in from overseas. — AFP