Wuhan marks a year since first COVID-19 lockdown as world scrambles to contain spread
Published Saturday, January 23, 2021 9:52AM EST
WUHAN, CHINA -- The Chinese city of Wuhan marked one year since the start of its traumatic 76-day coronavirus lockdown Saturday, while the pandemic raged elsewhere and governments scrambled to put in place new measures.
Europe faced a worsening struggle with production woes hitting supply of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine as well as the Pfizer/BioNTech shot.
Around the world, more than 2.1 million people have died of COVID-19 since it emerged in China in December 2019, with over 98 million infected.
In the world's worst-hit country, U.S. President Joe Biden warned America's death toll could pass 600,000, the highest estimate yet that would mark a devastating rise on the 400,000 fatalities so far.
But the picture was vastly different in Wuhan, where humming traffic, bustling sidewalks, and citizens packing parks and public transport underscored the scale of the recovery in the metropolis of 11 million where the pathogen first emerged before going global.
"I think Wuhan is quite safe now, safer than my hometown and most places in China," 21-year-old resident Wang Yizhe said.
Elsewhere in China, new outbreaks have prompted harsh responses.
Thousands of Hong Kongers in Jordan, one of the city's poorest and most densely-packed districts, were ordered to stay home Saturday unless they can show a negative test, in the city's first lockdown.
AstraZeneca told AFP late Friday that "lower yield" at one of its vaccine-making sites would affect deliveries across Europe.
Lithuania estimated it would receive 80 per cent fewer AstraZeneca doses than hoped in the first quarter, although German and French ministers tried to reassure the public of a steady supply.
Deliveries of Pfizer-made shots to the continent's countries are already behind schedule as the U.S. firm upgrades capacity at a Belgian plant.
At a meeting with AstraZeneca representatives, the EU Commission "insisted on a precise delivery schedule on the basis of which member states should be planning their vaccination programs", Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides tweeted.
Already cleared for use in Britain, EU authorities are expected to give the vaccine the green light at the end of January.
On Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was "some evidence" the new strain first detected in the country "may be associated with a higher degree of mortality" as well as being more infectious.
At 95,981 as of Friday, the U.K. death toll is the highest in Europe.
The World Health Organization reassured that fabric masks should still work in hindering the spread of new variants from Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
However, Norwegian capital Oslo toughened health restrictions after the British variant was found in a retirement home, closing all but essential shops and asking people to restrict movements.
A French government source told AFP a new lockdown in the country looked increasingly likely with the more transmissible strain.
Meanwhile the Netherlands introduced its first curfew since World War II, from 9 pm until 4:30 am.
Across the Atlantic, newly-installed President Biden stepped up federal aid even as he gave his highest estimate yet of the eventual toll.
"The virus is surging," he said. "We're at 400,000 dead, expected to reach well over 600,000."
And in the Colombian capital of Bogota, residents were under their third weekend quarantine in a row, meaning the closure of all non-essential shops in the city of eight million from Friday at 8 pm until Monday at 4 am.
In Mexico, where hospitals have been overwhelmed and over 146,000 have died, people are queueing for hours to buy oxygen to care for the growing numbers fighting coronavirus at home.
Brazilian scientists have meanwhile warned that the country faces running out of vaccine doses and basic equipment like syringes, just as its vaccination campaign gets underway -- with some blaming government for the shortages.
In Wuhan, a team of World Health Organization experts was still in hotel quarantine ahead of a mission to investigate the source of the virus.
"All hypotheses are on the table," WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a press conference in Geneva.
"And it is definitely too early to come to a conclusion of exactly where this virus started, either within or without China."
But there was good news Friday for poorer nations, as the WHO and pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer announced a deal for up to 40 million initial doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be made available to them through the Covax global pool.
A separate deal, brokered by international agencies working with the WHO, will supply developing nations with tens of millions of rapid antigen tests at half the usual $5 price.