The first official train to disembark passengers in Wuhan since it was put under lockdown arrived in the Chinese city on Saturday, as it began to reopen after more than two months of almost total isolation.
The easing of the quarantine, allowing people to enter the city of 11 million and the global ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak, comes as China plans measures to kickstart its pandemic-battered economy. Trains have been fully booked for over a week in advance.
But as some restrictions are loosened in China – with observers urging intense caution because of concerns over a potential re-emergence of the disease – the virus continued to rage around the world, with reported US cases passing the 100,000 mark as the world’s worst-infected country.
Chinese state media on Saturday showed crowds of passengers arriving at Wuhan station, many wheeling suitcases. Some people had managed to slip back into the city a day earlier on rail services that were stopping in the city, but had nominally banned passengers from disembarking.
A study this week found the lockdown in Wuhan – where more than 2,500 people are still hospitalised – had succeeded in stopping the fast-spreading virus in its tracks and given healthcare facilities crucial breathing room, but warned against opening up the city too soon.
Liu Dongru, of the Hubei health commission, said on Friday that although parts of Wuhan had been reclassified as “low-risk” areas, work to control the virus needed to continue. “Zero reported cases does not equal zero risk,” he said.
In the US, with cases in New York state alone hitting 44,000, and officials warning of “hard days,” president Donald Trump finally triggered the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to start making much-needed ventilators after being heavily criticised for his delays in invoking the emergency legislation.
More than 600,000 people have now contracted the virus around the world and there have been about 27,000 deaths. Six countries have had more than 1,000 deaths: Italy, Spain, China, Iran, the US and France. But some experts in Italy are suggesting the country may be approaching its peak after weeks of restrictions.
As the death toll continued to climb in France, health workers there received a huge show of gratitude from the Eiffel Tower. “Merci”, French for “thank you”, and “Stay at home” in English were emblazoned in lights at night on Paris’s world-famous landmark.
Elsewhere around the globe infections were on an upward trend, with Tokyo confirming more than 50 new coronavirus infections, a record daily increase, as the governor of Japan’s capital urged citizens to stay indoors.
Governor Yuriko Koike’s plea followed a surge in coronavirus infections this week that she said put Tokyo on the brink of an emergency. She has asked the tens of millions of people in the city and surrounding regions to avoid non-essential, non-urgent outings until 12 April, and particularly this weekend.
However most attention has focused on the US, where the Trump administration’s haphazard and tardy response to the epidemic has seen the world’s highest number of reported infections.
“What we’re seeing now, in actual real time, is something that’s unprecedented,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, even as Trump signed off on a $2.2tn (£1.8tn) economic stimulus package on Friday, saying the country was in “uncharted waters”.
“This is something we have never seen before, at least in our generation. They’ve seen maybe something like this 100 years ago.”
Fauci’s comments came as New York governor Andrew Cuomo called for 4,000 more temporary beds across New York City, where the Jacob K Javits Convention Center has already been converted into a hospital.
“This is going to be weeks and weeks and weeks,” Cuomo told members of the National Guard working at the Javits Center. “This is going to be a long day, and it’s going to be a hard day, and it’s going to be an ugly day, and it’s going to be a sad day.”
As the International Monetary Fund said it was clear that the global economy has now entered a recession that could be as bad or worse than the 2009 downturn, the economic impacts of the pandemic continued to be felt around the world.
Moody’s downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk status, piling more anguish on an economy already in recession and battered by Africa’s worst coronavirus outbreak.
The downgrade late on Friday came as South Africa began a three-week nationwide lockdown to try to halt the rapid spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 1,100 people in the country.