Wuhan ends lockdown; worldwide virus toll nears 83,000

Wuhan ends lockdown

After 76 days in lockdown, the Chinese city at the heart of the global pandemic reopened Wednesday and tens of thousands immediately hopped on trains and planes to leave. Elsewhere, the economic, political and psychological toll of fighting the virus grew increasingly clear and more difficult to bear.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a second night in intensive care, the first major world leader confirmed to have COVID-19. His condition was stable, the 55-year-old leader was receiving oxygen but was not on a ventilator, officials said.

Across the Atlantic, New York endured one of its darkest days so far, with the virus death toll surging past 4,000, hundreds more than the number killed on 9-11. New York state recorded 731 new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, its biggest one-day jump yet, for a statewide toll of nearly 5,500.

“Behind every one of those numbers is an individual. There’s a family, there’s a mother, there’s a father, there’s a sister, there’s a brother. So a lot of pain again today,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

More pain was also seen on the economic front. Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, could contract by a record 25% this quarter, the highest since gross domestic product began to be tracked in 1955. The dismal prediction by economists Naohiko Baba and Yuriko Tanaka said exports were expected to dive 60% in the April-June period.

The Bank of France said the French economy has entered recession with an estimated 6% drop in the first quarter compared to the previous three months, while Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, is also facing a deep recession with experts saying its economy will shrink 4.2% this year.

European governments have been scrambling to put together hundreds of billions of euros to save lives and prevent bankruptcies. The countries worst hit by the virus are among those that can least afford the costs, like Italy and Spain. But they disagree over how to tackle the challenge.

The finance ministers of countries using the shared euro currency failed Wednesday to agree on how to help their nations through the crisis, breaking off after marathon all-night talks. They will resume Thursday.

With European health workers toiling round the clock for weeks in a desperate bid to save lives, the psychological toll was becoming unbearable.

Weeks into Italy’s outbreak, two nurses have already killed themselves and more than 70 doctors and 20 nurses have died from the virus. Hospitals are making therapists available to help staff cope with the emotional toll of seeing so much death. Italy is the hardest-hit country overall, with over 17,000 deaths.

In Spain, Dr. Luis Díaz Izquierdo, from the emergency ward in a suburban Madrid hospital, said the sense of helplessness was crushing.

“No matter what we did, they go, they pass away,” he said.

Nurse Diego Alonso said he and other colleagues have been using tranquilizers to cope.

“The psychological stress from this time is going to be difficult to forget. It has just been too much,” he said.

Spain’s Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 757 new deaths of virus patients and 6,180 new confirmed infections. Both figures were slightly higher than Tuesday’s, when the first increase in five days was explained by a backlog of test results and unreported weekend fatalities.

But doubts about Spain's statistics were increasing as fresh data emerges. Authorities have already acknowledged that a scarcity of testing kits and a bottleneck in how many tests laboratories can conduct daily are giving an underestimated tally of the country's contagion, which rose to 146,000 confirmed cases.

In Wuhan, the Chinese city of 11 million where the pandemic began, residents waved flags and the city staged a light show with skyscrapers and bridges radiating images of health workers aiding patients.

Restrictions in the city where most of China’s more than 82,000 virus cases and over 3,300 deaths were reported have been gradually eased in recent weeks as new cases declined.

“I haven’t been outside for more than 70 days,” said an emotional Tong Zhengkun. “Being indoors for so long drove me crazy.”

In Washington, President Donald Trump threatened to freeze U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, saying the international group had “missed the call” on the pandemic. He suggested the U.N. agency had gone along with Beijing’s efforts months ago to minimize the severity of the outbreak.

In Europe, Britain and France appeared to be at different stages of the coronavirus crisis than Italy, where new infections and virus deaths were declining daily. Deaths in Britain reached nearly 6,200 after a one-day increase of 786, its highest figure yet, while in France, the number of dead climbed to more than 10,300.

“We are in the epidemic’s ascendant stage,” said Jerome Salomon, France’s national health director. “We have not yet reached the peak.”

Across the U.S., the death toll topped 12,900, with nearly 400,000 confirmed infections. Some of the deadliest hot spots were Detroit, New Orleans and the New York metropolitan area.

Worldwide, more than 1.4 million people have been confirmed infected and almost 83,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and deliberate underreporting by some governments.

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