- 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)
China Warns UK to “Step Back From the Brink” After Boris Johnson Offer Hong Kongers Refuge
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered refuge to nearly three million Hong Kong residents on Wednesday.
- Johnson’s announcement came after Beijing passed a highly controversial bill last week meant to severely crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong.
- Among other things, the Chinese government will now be allowed to establish a security force in the city.
- Following Johnson’s announcement, the Chinese government warned the United Kingdom to “step back from the brink” and “abandon their Cold War mentality and colonial mindset.”
- The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has also urged Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada to offer visas to Hong Kong residents.
Boris Johnson Offers Refuge to Hong Kongers
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now pledging refuge and a path to British citizenship for nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents.
The move follows last week’s passage of a sweeping national security law passed in Beijing, which has widely been viewed as a blatant attempt to subvert Hong Kong’s freedoms and exert more control over the city.
Johnson, who announced the refuge plan in an op-ed in the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, said, “If China proceeds, this would be in direct conflict with its obligations under the Joint Declaration, a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations.”
Notably, Johnson plans to extend British National (Overseas) passports to allow Hong Kong residents to come to the United Kingdom for a renewable period of 12 months. They would then be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship.
Currently, about 350,000 people hold BNO passports. Another 2.5 million are eligible for them.
In fact, anyone born before 1997 is able to apply for one, but normally, they would only allow Hong Kongers to remain in the United Kingdom for up to six months. Passport holders would also be unable to apply for work.
Johnson’s response to China’s security law is particularly notable because before 1997, Hong Kong was actually a British colony. It was then handed over to China, where it implemented the “one country, two systems” model.
Johnson noted that this would be one of the biggest changes to the UK’s visa system in British history. He said he will implement it if or when China formally enacts its national security law.
“Britain would then have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong,” Johnson said.
But some in Hong Kong have expressed concern over the offer. Many are afraid that, even if they can apply for jobs in the U.K., they won’t be able to find any. Others fear they’ll be treated like second-class citizens.
“I think it’s a shame in a way that they only offer us an exit, and do not offer to stand by us in our fight for Hong Kong,” veteran activist Lee Cheuk Yan said.
Others have expressed major concerns with young people’s ability to apply for BNO’s, as they would likely not be able to obtain a visa if they were born after 1997.
China Warns UK: “Step Back from the Brink”
China responded Wednesday to Johnson’s offer to Hong Kong residents, though it did not do so with open arms.
“We advise the UK to step back from the brink, abandon their Cold War mentality and colonial mindset, and recognise and respect the fact that Hong Kong has returned [to China],” Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China foreign ministry, said.
Zhao added that London must “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s internal affairs, or this will definitely backfire.”
Part of the reason why China might be so furious with Johnson’s offer is that China likely views it as the UK undermining China’s authority over Hong Kong. On top of that, the offer could also result in a major brain drain from the world financial hub. In fact, three million people is about 40 percent of Hong Kong’s population.
Still, it doesn’t seem like the UK is about to back down. Dominic Raab—the UK’s foreign secretary—has been urging other countries to offer visas to Hong Kong residents including Australia, New Zealand, the United States., and Canada.
On Tuesday, Raab said he’s raised “the possibility of… burden-sharing if we see a mass exodus from Hong Kong.”
Regarding the U.S., this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the U.S. response should “mirror those of other democracies who have opened their doors to Hong Kongers fleeing oppression.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he’s considering the idea of allowing more Hong Kongers to immigrate to the U.S. if this law goes into effect.
Outside of the U.S, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged support to accept Hong Kongers within Taiwan’s borders.
Last week, she said she’s working to “draw up a humanitarian assistance action plan for #HongKong citizens that lays out clear, complete plans for their residence, placement, employment, & life in #Taiwan as soon as possible.”
National Security Bill, Protests, and U.S. Response
On May 21, China proposed the national security law.
China has argued that it’s nothing more than a way to end the violence in the city and that it would have “no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents, or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.”
The law itself would criminalize acts like secession, terrorism, subversion, and any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong; however, one of the big issues with the bill is the subversion clause, which is so broad that it’s currently unclear what would actually be criminalized.
The bill also allows the mainland to set up its own security force in the city—something it hasn’t been able to do up to this point. That means China would then be able to target people in Hong Kong who criticize the government.
Following the announcement of this bill, people flooded the streets in protest for the time since coronavirus lockdown measures were put in place. Those incidents have led to a number of arrests and clashes with police.
On May 28, that bill passed in Beijing.
For her part, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she’ll support it, but that hasn’t been the case at all for a lot of world leaders.
Other countries like Canada, Australia, and Japan have also expressed concern.
Last week, Pompeo also announced that the U.S. no longer viewed Hong Kong as an autonomous region. Notably, that could give President Trump and Congress the leeway to end Hong Kong’s special trade status, which would then impose in Hong Kong the same trade restrictions the U.S. has on China.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (The Guardian)
Chief Adviser to Boris Johnson in Hot Water for Breaking Lockdown Measures He Helped Create
Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
- Politicians and citizens in the United Kingdom are calling for Dominic Cummings, chief adviser to the Prime Minister, to be fired after breaking strict lockdown measures that he helped create.
- Days after those measures went into effect, Cummings drove his young son and wife, who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, 260 miles north from London to Durham.
- As Cummings explained on Monday, this was to allow his parents to care for his son in case he came down with symptoms, too.
- A day later, he did. Eventually, so did his son, who was later taken to the hospital.
Cummings Travels 260 Miles After Lockdown Restrictions
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to fire his chief adviser Dominic Cummings after Cummings broke lockdown measures he helped create.
On March 23, the United Kingdom imposed strict lockdown orders that barred nearly all travel; however, on March 27, Cummings drove 260 miles from London to his parents’ home in the northern city of Durham.
Notably, he also brought his 4-year-old son as well as his wife, who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The next day after arriving in Durham, Cummings developed symptoms. It was also later learned that eventually, so did his son, who had to spend a night in the hospital.
Only a couple of weeks after experiencing symptoms, Cummings and his family then reportedly visited a local castle.
According to the government’s stay-at-home orders—which Cummings reportedly helped directly create—people with children were told to comply “to the best of your ability.”
While England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer warned that “if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance,” she also added that people without child care or family support should contact their local authorities for help. That is something Cummings didn’t do.
In fact, Cummings also failed to tell Johnson he was making this trip.
Because of that, many have used social media to rail at Cummings for seemingly flouting his own rules.
One Twitter user said, “he has COVID symptoms so he drives the length of the country to deliver a potentially contagious child to a household of two elderly people, and he wants to keep his job?”
Many others, including journalist Piers Morgan, have shared personal stories of being unable to visit their elderly relatives. Some have even noted that they obeyed lockdown orders in lieu of comforting dying family and friends or attending funerals.
A number of politicians in parliament have also called for Johnson to fire Cummings, including more than 35 Conservatives in Johnson’s own party.
Still, following this, Johnson defended Cummings, saying he “followed the instincts of every father and every parent.”
Cummings Addresses His Travel
On Monday, Cummings held a news conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street, the office of the prime minister. More than 3.7 million people tuned in to listen to Cummings address the mounting criticism.
At the conference, Cummings defended his actions. Originally, he said that he, his wife, and his son had all quarantined together, but when they began to suspect that his wife might have had the coronavirus and could possibly spread it to him, they left.
Cummings argued this was so that his extended family would be able to care for his son if both of them became ill.
Notably, he said he didn’t stop on the way up to his father’s farm.
Cummings went on to say that because he needed to ensure childcare for his son, that constituted an “exceptional situation” granted under the lockdown orders.
“I don’t regret what I did,” Cummings said. “As I said, I think reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances, but I think that what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances.”
Regarding why he visited the castle, Cummings claimed that this was to test his eyesight to see if he could drive back to London, this because he said he had experienced vision loss from the coronavirus.
As to why he didn’t tell Johnson about his trip to Durham, Cummings said it was because Johnson had just fallen ill himself and had other issues to worry about. Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 on March 27.
Still, Cummings did admit that he had made a mistake in not telling Johnson.
“I think lots of people would be very angry and I completely understand that,” he said, “but I hope and think that, today, when I’ve actually explained all the circumstances about it.”
“I think people realize that this was a very complicated, tricky situation. I was trying to weigh out a lot of different things. Some people might have behaved differently in some ways. As I said, you know, arguably, it was a mistake that I didn’t call Prime Minister on the Friday night, but I just did what I thought was the right thing to do. But I make decisions like that everyday.”
MP Resigns from Government Post
If Cummings hoped that the masses would be understanding after his explanation, he was wrong. While some people have certainly approached the situation from the perspective of a desperate parent wanting to do anything to protect their child, others have remained critical.
In fact, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Douglas Ross, announced that he was resigning from his post following Cummings’ conference.
According to Ross, while that conference “clarified” Cummings’ actions, “these were decisions many others felt were not available to them.”
“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior advisor to the government was right,” he added.
Ross, who is also a Conservative member of parliament, will continue in that role without resigning.
Essentially, this move is meant to put extra pressure on Johnson, as Ross’ Under-Secretary of State position was a function of the prime minister’s cabinet.
Whether that pressure or any pressure will actually lead to Johnson firing Cummings is a big question that remains unanswered, though Johnson has indicated thus far that he doesn’t plan on firing Cummings.
As The Washington Post points out, Johnson may think that he needs Cummings, this because Cummings is “focused on doing whatever is necessary to get his policies through.”
In fact, because of that, Cummings has been described as “arguably the second-most powerful man in Britain.”
Still, if Johnson loses the support of his party over this, there is the possibility that Conservative members of Parliament could trigger a leadership contest. As to how likely such a situation would be, that may become more clear in the coming days.
See what others are saying: (CNBC) (BBC) (The Guardian)
Taiwanese President Pledges Support for Hong Kong After China Proposes National Security Law
- On Thursday, the Chinese government announced that it was proposing a new national security law aimed at Hong Kong.
- The law is meant to criminalize any attempts at secession, subversion, or terrorism against mainland China in the autonomous city-state.
- Though protests had already been scheduled to oppose different measures being proposed in Hong Kong, they quickly shifted on Sunday to include opposition to the likely-to-be-passed national security law.
- Also on Sunday, Twainese President Tsai Ing-wen said that Taiwan “stands with the people of Hong Kong.”
China Proposes National Security Law
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post on late Sunday that she “stands with the people of Hong Kong” as mainland China prepares to implement a sweeping new national security law that pro-democracy advocates argue could strip Hong Kong of its autonomy.
The law, proposed by the Chinese government on Thursday, is a direct response to the massive protests that have rocked Hong Kong since last year following a proposed extradition bill that would have made it easier for the mainland to target Hong Kongers critical of the Chinese government.
Hong Kong enjoys many freedoms that the mainland lacks. That is because, for more than 150 years, Hong Kong was a British colony. Then, in 1997, Britain handed Hong Kong back to mainland China; however, under a unique agreement called Basic Law, Hong Kong was allowed to retain its freedoms of assembly and speech, with that agreement set to last 50 years.
The proposed national security law is not the first time China has actively tried to exert more power over Hong Kong over the years, but it is the mainland’s most blatant attempt yet to crackdown on protests.
Notably, it would criminalize a number of acts in Hong Kong, including:
- Secession, or the right to declare independence from the mainland;
- Subversion, or undermining the power or authority of the mainland;
- Any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong.
The law would also allow mainland China to implement its own law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong to “fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security.”
Large Scale Protests Ramp Up for the First Time Since Lockdown
A large scale protest was originally scheduled to be held on Sunday to oppose a bill in Hong Kong’s legislature that would criminalize disrespecting the Chinese national anthem. After China’s announcement of this new bill, the focus shifted.
On Sunday, thousands of protesters ignored social distancing orders as they marched through the streets. This was the first instance of a large scale protest since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
While most of the protest was peaceful, in a scene now not uncommon for Hong Kong, several clashes between protesters and police occurred.
Police threw tear gas to disperse demonstrators, reportedly because the demonstrators had set up roadblocks and thrown objects at officers. Along with tear gas, police also fired other familiar projectiles at protesters, including a water cannon and rubber bullets.
By the end of the protest, more than 180 people were arrested, four officers were injured, and six other people were hospitalized—including one woman in critical condition.
Alongside that protest, on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi continued to defend the proposed national security law, saying that it’s aimed only at a: “very narrow category of acts that seriously jeopardise national security.”
He added that the law would have “no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents, or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.”
“Instead of becoming unnecessarily worried, people should have more confidence in Hong Kong’s future,” he said.
Still, his comments have failed to assuage or persuade pro-democracy advocates. According to The Washington Post, this law could lead to secret police, surveillance, arbitrary detentions, and even propaganda in classrooms.
International Response to the Proposed Law
One of the big questions that remains is to what degree the United States might intervene—especially since the law would criminalize foreign forces interfering with Hong Kong.
So far, the U.S. hasn’t promised any specific action, but on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called security law a “death knell” and said he strongly urged Beijing to reconsider the “disastrous proposal.”
Late Sunday night, Taiwanese President Tsai said that if the law is implemented, then Hong Kong’s core values of freedom and judicial independence will be severely eroded.
Still, it likely will be implemented as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that she’ll fully support the law, arguing that it will improve business confidence without eroding freedoms.
On Tuesday, Lam continued to call on citizens to support the legislation, saying, “We are a very free society, so for the time being people have the freedom to say whatever they want to say.”
However, she also added that once the law passes, that could make demonstrations like we’ve seen over the past year illegal.
Also Tuesday morning, reports indicated that Hong Kong demand for VPN’s surged more than 600% the day that China announced the draft law.