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China tests entire city for virus as Europe tightens controls

  • Beiyi Seow

    Agence France-Presse

Beijing, China   /   Wed, October 14, 2020   /   09:24 am
China tests entire city for virus as Europe tightens controls A medical worker in protective suit collects a swab from a middle school student for nucleic acid testing, following new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Qingdao, Shandong province, China October 12, 2020. Picture taken October 12, 2020. (REUTERS/China Daily )

China rushed Tuesday to test an entire city of nine million people within days after a minor coronavirus outbreak in the sprawling country, a far cry from the struggle in Europe to tackle surging infections with tough new steps including partial lockdowns.

The virus is still spreading rapidly worldwide, with over one million deaths and 37 million infections, and many nations that suppressed their first outbreaks now face a second wave.

Without a vaccine, governments are wary of allowing the virus to spread unchecked.

China -- where COVID-19 first emerged late last year -- launched a drive to test all residents of Qingdao after a handful of cases were detected on Sunday.

More than four million samples had been collected and 1.9 million results returned as of Tuesday afternoon, Qingdao authorities said, adding that no new cases had been found beyond already confirmed infections.

Chinese officials intend to test the entire city -- around 9.4 million people -- by Thursday.

In scenes contrasting with the fumbled testing efforts elsewhere, health workers in protective clothing swiftly set up tents and residents queued deep into Monday night to provide samples.

In Europe, governments are battling to curb surges with new controls and increased testing, while trying to avoid the devastating nationwide lockdowns of March and April.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the Netherlands will go into "partial lockdown" from 2000 GMT on Wednesday, with all bars, cafés and restaurants to close for two weeks at least.

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce tighter restrictions and faster testing in a prime-time TV interview Wednesday night, with some media speculating Paris and other cities could face evening curfews.

Hospitals in Paris will have most of their intensive care beds packed with COVID-19 patients as soon as next week, the system's chief warned Tuesday.

"It's inevitable," Martin Hirsch, the head of the 39 hospitals in Paris and its suburbs, told the Parisien newspaper, estimating beds would reach 70-90% capacity by October 24.

Russia on Tuesday reported its highest-ever number of daily virus deaths, at 244, and a record number of new cases at almost 14,000.

Italy imposed new, tougher rules to control a resurgence, including an end to parties, amateur football matches and snacking at bars at night.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Tuesday became the latest high-profile figure to go into quarantine after coming into contact with a person with COVID-19.

And Portugal's football federation said star striker Cristiano Ronaldo had tested positive for the virus.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose country has the highest death toll in Europe, on Monday had already ordered pubs in Liverpool to shut as part of a new strategy.

He said businesses forced to close would get support from the government, but his focus on shutting hospitality venues sparked anger, as have similar measures elsewhere.

Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer called Tuesday for a 2-3 week "circuit break" lockdown to slow infection rates, saying the government had "lost control" of the outbreak having ignored stringent measures suggested by scientific experts on September 21.

 

'Ethically problematic' 

In opposition to lockdowns and social distancing, some politicians have proposed letting the coronavirus circulate in the population to build up "herd immunity" -- where so much of the population has been infected there are insufficient new victims for the virus to jump to.

But the World Health Organization has dismissed such plans as "ethically problematic" and requiring mass vaccinations to work.

Underlining the challenge, a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal indicated that exposure to the virus may not guarantee future immunity -- and the second infection could come with even more severe symptoms.

 

Vaccine setback 

With the pandemic already claiming more than one million lives worldwide, scientists in different nations are rushing to develop vaccines and effective treatments.

Some have made it to late-stage clinical testing, but the optimism was dented Monday when Johnson & Johnson announced it had temporarily halted its 60,000-patient trial because of an unexplained illness in one participant.

They are one of 10 firms conducting final Phase 3 trials of their products globally.

The pharma giant has been awarded about $1.45 billion in US funding under Operation Warp Speed, championed by President Donald Trump, who is keen for a political boost ahead of the November election with a coronavirus breakthrough.

Critics have excoriated Trump for his handling of the crisis, with more known infections and deaths in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

Trump was sidelined from the campaign trail for 10 days after he got COVID-19, but returned to the stage Monday.

"I went through it and now they say I'm immune... I feel so powerful," Trump told a cheering crowd in Florida, few of whom wore masks.

In north Africa, Tunisia has reinstated curfews in several regions to check a surge in infections.

The International Monetary Fund says the economic crisis this year will not be as grim as feared, but global GDP will still contract 4.4 percent and the damage inflicted by the pandemic will be felt for years.