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SPOTLIGHT: WHAT HAPPENS IN WUHAN MATTERS IN WICHITA

And 76 days later…

It was Jan. 23, 2020 when the central Chinese city of Wuhan was cut off from the rest of the world, as government authorities took action to severely restrict people's movements at the epicenter of what was then just the beginning of the burgeoning coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, the two-and-a-half-month ban on travel was lifted, ending the world's longest mass quarantine in memory.

That, of course, leaves much time for the rest of the world to count the days shut inside our own homes and cities. But even as each of us monitors our respective local situation, we will all be watching Wuhan closely to see what happens after its landmark "liberation" from coronavirus lockdown.

The international criticism for what were considered draconian measures in Wuhan are no doubt seen in a new light as other countries are now enforcing lockdowns of their own. And now, we will see another real-world experiment as restrictions are eased, providing precious data: to epidemiologists on the resurgence of cases, to economists on how quickly businesses can bounce back, and to all of us on how much it will take to get back to normal after weeks or months in isolation.

There is certainly a lot to learn from the Wuhan example, even if containment measures in different countries have varied widely. In China, the virus has been contained by forcing anyone with a fever and people who had been in close contact with someone believed to be infected into "centralized quarantine." This means that thousands of people were taken from their homes and placed in converted hotels, dorms and classrooms in order to stop transmission, even among family members at home. This has not been the case in most Western countries, where authorities have sought to keep people out of hospitals unless their cases are severe and advised people with symptoms to self-isolate at home.

All this to say that what happens in Wuhan won't necessarily determine what will happen in the rest of the world. If the resurgence of cases depends on how much immunity is already in the population, as some epidemiologists claim, China's efficient containment might eventually prove to be a weak spot. So, even as we count the days, there will be plenty of other data to calculate as well.

Michaela Kozminova

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Wuhan reopens: Coronavirus lockdown ends after 76 days in the central Chinese city where it was believed to have begun.

  • Toll: Deaths pass 10,000 in France, as the U.S. records highest death toll in a single day with more than 1,800 fatalities, 731 in New York state alone.

  • Europe blocked: Talks of European Union recovery fund to help southern countries, especially Italy and Spain, have stalled after 16 hours, leading the head of the European Research Council to resign, "extremely disappointed by the European response".

  • Polish vote: parliament approves legislation to allow presidential elections in May to be held as a postal ballot.

  • Pyongyang tests: In North Korea, 709 people have been tested and 509 are in quarantine, according to a WHO representative, but the country still reports no cases.

  • Where's El Señor Presidente? Even as Nicaragua continues to promote gatherings and mass events, while President Daniel Ortega has been absent for almost a month.

  • RIP Prine: U.S. raspy-voiced country icon John Prine dies from coronavirus complications in Nashville at age 73.


FRANCE'S ELDERLY HECATOMB: Out of the 10,328 deaths recorded in France since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, 3,237 were residents in nursing homes and similar structures. The country's "EHPAD Battle" (acronym for "Accommodation Facility for Dependent Elderly") features on today's front page of daily La Croix.

IRAN RISKS PREMATURE END TO QUARANTINE: From open schools in Singapore to newly closed businesses in the U.S., the world is wondering what the safest way back to normalcy might be. Iran is putting this question to the test as many citizens returned to work in early April after the Persian New Year holiday, despite an official count of 55,740 infections and 3,452 deaths on April 4th.

  • Rouhani v. Task Force: President Hassan Rouhani has announced a reopening of a portion of business activities on Wednesday, citing the need to "move the wheel of the economy." The Tehran task force charged with fighting the virus adamantly disagrees with Rouhani's choice. "Not only have we not reached the phase of controlling this virus, but it is increasing."

  • Locked down late and soft: Social distancing was only officially implemented on March 27, even as death tolls soared. And then once implemented, the restrictions were loosely enforced, with Iranian news agency ISNA showing a fairly crowded Tehran metro on April 4th, with only some users wearing face masks.

  • Public anger: The London-based Kayhan newspaper attributed partial compliance to officials' "contradictory" positions on confinement as well as people's fear of losing their jobs. One Twitter user, Delvar, claimed ordinary workers had to go out and work while "the mullahs hide away in their villas."

  • Pressure from the boss: The government, instead, has blamed private companies. The government's coronavirus coordinator in greater Tehran, Alireza Zali, told the Fars news agency too many businesses are not "cooperating" with the official recommendations to work from home, and pressure employees to return to the office.

PHOTO DU JOUR

Labeling hand sanitizers in Kathmandu, Nepal — Photo: Skanda Gautam/ZUMA

TRUMP CRISIS MANAGEMENT — FIND THE SCAPEGOATS: As the death toll in the U.S. marked a new global high, topping 1,800 dead on Tuesday alone, President Donald Trump is back on the hunt for someone to blame. Facing criticism for initially downplaying the severity of the coronavirus crisis, Trump continues to point fingers at supposed enemies, both foreign and domestic:

  • W.H.O.: In a White House press conference Tuesday evening, the president threatened to cut U.S. funds to the World Health Organization (WHO), claiming that the international body "missed the call" on the coronavirus pandemic.

  • CHINA: Trump has, for the moment, ceased calling COVID-19 "the Chinese virus," but his latest targeting of World Health officials was another chance to lash out at Beijing. Saying the WHO is in cahoots with Chinese officials, and failed to catch the spreading virus in Wuhan, China. Trump has previously blamed China for the spread, arguing that American officials could have acted faster if China's government had better shared information about the outbreak.

  • SWEDEN: Another favorite target for Trump is Sweden, and Tuesday he claimed the country was "suffering very greatly" due to its herd-immunity approach. Sweden's state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was quick to respond, telling Swedish Television on Wednesday that we should "pay little attention to Trump's bravados," and that New York is in a much more dire situation than Sweden.

  • HOME FRONT: Trump's decision to hold daily press briefings is also a chance to both bash the media (a favorite target) but also individual U.S. states for the shortages of medical equipment and other difficulties in responding to the crisis.


Some hoped that this would blow over, and sat tight until the moment when they needed emergency evacuation.

— Read the Worldcrunch article by Alastair Gill: As Virus Takes Hold, Russia (And Russians) Caught In Limbo.


WHAT'S UP IN SPACE? The colossal impacts of that tiny virus are visible from space. Wired magazine reported about a Colorado-based space technology company Maxartaking low-Earth orbit satellite photographs of COVID-19 hotspots, capturing images of empty cities, make-shift hospitals being constructed and airport rental car lots suddenly filled with cars as people stopped travelling. But the flipside question to those photos is also worth asking: What's the impact of coronavirus on the world of space?

  • Mars race still on: Despite the outbreak, NASA is working hard to ensure the launch of the Mars 2020 mission in July. Limiting or even suspending other space projects amid the global pandemic, the US Space Agency made Mars 2020 its top priority, especially since their Chinese counterparts have no intention of giving up their ambitious Martian project Huoxing-1 scheduled for take-off on July 23, reports Le Monde.

  • Science hand: NASA has set up a crowdsourcing platform to exchange research ideas to aid in the fight against the pandemic, with three areas in which it could potentially make the most meaningful difference: personal protective equipment, ventilators and forecasting the spread and impact of the coronavirus.

  • Changed planet: After more than six months aboard the International Space Station, three astronauts will return April 17 to an Earth that is forever changed. In a video interview, U.S. astronaut Jessica Meir said that she and her fellow crew members exercise daily to maintain their physical and mental health, and keep in touch with friends and family via weekly video chats. Sound familiar?

  • Quarantine tips: Al-Jazeera reports that NASA with the Space Medicine Innovations Laboratory at Dartmouth University have developed a self-guided online program to manage conflict, stress, and depression. This conflict resolution module designed for astronauts on missions for long periods of time in tight living quarters is now available for everyone.




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