Beijing – For the first time since the coronavirus outbreak started, China has reported no new domestic transmissions of Covid-19, a major milestone in the country’s fight against the pandemic.
China’s national health commission said on Thursday there were 34 new cases, but all were recent overseas arrivals. In Hubei, the Chinese province where the outbreak began, there were no new cases of any kind during Wednesday.
On Wednesday officials in Hubei’s Wuhan city, where the pandemic began late last year, loosened restrictions further, allowing people in residential compounds deemed “virus free” to leave their homes to conduct individual “personal activities” in staggered groups within the grounds, at certain times of the day. In areas that have been without infections for seven consecutive days, residents can go out freely as long as they do not gather in groups. Officials said 5,600 residential areas, or 78% of the residential areas in the city, are virus-free.
While the Asian nations that were first affected appeared to have come through the worst of it, there are now concerns about a second wave of infections, driven by people returning from overseas.
The good news from China came as Australia and New Zealand both announced they would close their borders to all non-residents and non-citizens. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s borders would shut from 9pm on Friday, while his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern said the move would happen on Thursday evening.
Morrison said the decision had been reached because about 80% of Australia’s cases were the result of someone either contracting the virus overseas or being in direct contact with someone who had.
Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg, speaking after the Reserve bank cuts its interest rate again, to 0.25%, said: “Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.”
Hours earlier, the island state of Tasmania announced a state of emergency and effectively closed itself off from the rest of the country.
The country’s flagship airline Qantas also said it would suspend all international flights from the end of the month and would be standing down two thirds of its 30,000-strong workforce without pay. The government also put restrictions on purchases of over-the-counter medicine, as people continued to buy multiple items despite advice and instructions not to unnecessarily hoard.
Despite continued criticism of China for its initial suppression of information and slow response to the virus, Beijing is now setting itself up as a leader in tackling it, offering assistance to other affected nations.
In its daily briefing on Thursday, China’s national health commission said there were no new domestic cases in the country. Once there have been no new cases for 14 days, the lockdown on Wuhan may lift, the China Daily reported.
There were eight more deaths – all in Hubei – bringing the country’s total to 3,245, according to the commission. It said that of the more than 81,000 cases reported in China since the outbreak began, just 7,263 remained ill.
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