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Wuhan Lifts Lockdown Measures as Other Countries Consider Loosening Their Own

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  • Wuhan has ended its 76-day lockdown amid concerns that lifting restrictions could cause a second wave of outbreaks.
  • At least 65,000 people have already left Wuhan, even though the government has urged people not to leave the city or even their neighborhoods.
  • Meanwhile, China has reported new coronavirus cases, most of which are from travelers. Notably, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan all experienced second waves of the virus after an influx of travelers.
  • The U.S. and numerous countries are also considering easing restrictions despite continued reports of new cases and deaths increasing.

Wuhan Lifts Restrictions

Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first started, has officially ended its lockdown after 76 days. 

With the reopening, travel restrictions have also been lifted. Residents will now be allowed to leave the city as long as they show authorities a government-sanctioned phone app that indicates whether or not they are a health risk based on their home address, travels, medical history, and other data collected by the government.

According to local reports, within just hours of the ban being lifted, around 65,000 people had left the city by train and plane alone. Thousands more were allowed to leave by car or bus once the roads were open.

However, Chinese health officials said Tuesday that Wuhan residents are still being pushed not to leave their neighborhoods, the city, or the province unless necessary, furthering apprehension about the decision to reopen.

Concerns Over Spread & Travel 

While the situation seems to have calmed down, some experts say there is still a risk in ending the lockdown and letting people leave Wuhan.

Although only three new cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Wuhan in the last three weeks, there are still concerning numbers in other parts of the country.

On Tuesday, China reported that new confirmed cases had doubled, rising to 62 from 32 the day before, the highest since March 25. Notably, new imported infections made up 59 of those cases.

Chinese health officials also said Wednesday that asymptomatic cases quadrupled, going up to 137 from just 30 a day earlier. Again, travelers accounted for a high number of those, making up 102 of the cases.

The fact that so many of the new cases are coming from travelers is quite significant because it is something that has happened before. 

Last month, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan had all flattened their curves. Then travelers from the US and Europe began bringing the virus back, forcing all four to implement much stricter social distancing and immigration controls. 

Other Countries Loosening Measures

Despite these concerns, numerous countries all over the world have said that they will begin easing containment measures.

On Monday, Denmark and Austria both announced that they will slowly start opening up parts of the countries starting next week. The Czech Republic also lifted some restrictions Tuesday and said it will start allowing some travel next week.

Spain’s government announced Wednesday that the country will start returning to “normal life” starting April 26. While officials did not give specifics about how restrictions would be eased, the move would be especially concerning for a country like Spain.

Spain has been one of the hardest-hit countries, with the second-highest number of confirmed cases after the U.S. The country’s reported fatalities slowed last week, but the number of deaths rose again recently, with 757 reported Wednesday and 743 Tuesday.

But Spain is not the only country with alarming numbers that has been looking to open things up again. 

Germany and France have also said they are preparing options to ease restrictions in spite of the fact that forecasts show the outbreak is growing rapidly in both countries, which rank fourth and fifth respectively for the highest number of confirmed cases.

Similar ideas have also been floated in the U.S., which on Wednesday reported the largest single-day coronavirus death toll of any country with more than 1,800 confirmed deaths.

But on Wednesday morning, Vice President Mike Pence said that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is considering changing guidelines to make it easier for essential workers who have been exposed to someone infected to return to work.

“Under the proposed guidance, people who are exposed to someone infected would be allowed back on the job if they are asymptomatic, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask, said a person familiar with the proposal under consideration,” NBC News reported.

To Plan or Not to Plan

Many experts say that it is far too early to be opening things up.

While speaking during a news conference this morning, Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director for Europe, warned that despite seeing “positive signs,” it is too soon to change the regulations put in place.

“Now is not the time to relax measures,” he said. “It is the time to once again double and triple our collective efforts to drive toward suppression with the whole support of society.”

That point was also echoed by Bruce Aylward, another top WHO official, who emphasized the need to ensure that the public does not take the situation lightly.

“We have got to ensure that the public understands we’re moving to a new phase,” he said “It’s not lifting lockdowns and going back to normal. It’s a new normal.”

While some experts believe that serious discussion about plans to lift restrictions could undermine the importance of containment measures in the public eye, others believe it is important to plan for the future.

Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, said that the administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country.

“If, in fact, we are successful, it makes sense to at least plan what a reentry into normality would look like,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to do it right now. But it means we need to be prepared to ease into that. And there’s a lot of activity going on.”

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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