China puts city of 10m on lockdown to curb new outbreak



A northern Chinese city went into lockdown after local officials claim a New York University student brought the coronavirus when she returned home from the US, according to reports.

Harbin, which has a population of 10 million, restricted travel on Wednesday after the 22-year-old graduate student was accused of sparking a local outbreak that ultimately infected at least 70 people.

The student, who was only identified by her last name, Han, returned from New York to her hometown on March 19, according to the Harbin Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Han went through a 14-day quarantine during which she showed no symptoms and tested negative for the virus, the Chinese outlet Southern Urban Daily reported. She was also cleared by an antibody test, which would have shown past infection.


But health officials believe she was a "silent carrier," spreading the virus to her neighbor by contaminating the building, according to the New York Post. She later was found to have antibodies of the virus in two separate tests.

Meanwhile, her neighbor was believed to have spread the virus to an 87-year-old man, who held a gathering where others became sick, the outlet reported.

The elderly man was hospitalised twice for the virus, possibly infecting others during these stints, the report said.





Health officials claimed the man has been linked to at least 78 cases, which include relatives, patients and their families, and medical professionals, according to the report.

Harbin, which is the capital of Heilongjiang, ordered inbound traffic restricted Wednesday to contain the spread of the highly contagious disease, state media said.

The city banned entry to residential zones by non-locals and vehicles registered elsewhere.

Harbin has already ordered 28 days of quarantine for anyone arriving from outside China or other identified hotspots.

"All confirmed cases, suspected cases, close contacts of asymptomatic people, and close contacts of close contacts should be quarantined and tested," the city government said, according to state media.





More than one in five New Yorkers may have already had the new coronavirus, a testing sample showed on Thursday (local time), suggesting infections are much higher than confirmed cases suggest.

Widespread testing - including for antibodies - is viewed as key to American states being able to lift stay-at-home orders and reopen their shuttered economies.

The presence of antibodies means a person has already been infected with the virus and might mean they are immune, meaning they could likely return to work without catching the illness again.


A New Yorker runs at a distance from other civilians. Picture: AP
A New Yorker runs at a distance from other civilians. Picture: AP


A total of 3000 customers at supermarkets across the state of New York were randomly tested for coronavirus antibodies this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Almost 14 per cent of them registered positive, he told reporters. In New York City, 21 per cent of tests came back positive.

Those would translate to roughly 2.6 million people statewide and around 1.7 million people in the Big Apple as having already had the new coronavirus.

Those numbers are way above the 263,460 declared cases across New York State, the epicentre of America's outbreak, where the virus has killed more than 15,500 people.

"It's vital for any state, I believe, to first get a baseline study of where you are on the infection rate," Gov. Cuomo said.



There are uncertainties about the accuracy of antibody tests and the sample was small. But Gov. Cuomo noted that, if the data played out across the state it would mean that the death rate for COVID-19 there was only 0.5 per cent.

That is much lower than the US average and the worst-affected countries in Europe, which are based on confirmed cases.

According to Johns Hopkins University, Belgium has a known-case mortality rate of 14.9 per cent, France 13.6 per cent and the United States 5.5 per cent.


A medical worker in New York. Picture: AP
A medical worker in New York. Picture: AP


Meanwhile, the number of people in the US filing for unemployment benefits jumped another 4.4 million last week, taking the total to nearly 27 million.

One state, Michigan, reported an unemployment rate of 22 per cent.

The relentless increase in the jobless has intensified the debate over when to lift restrictions that have helped halt the virus's rapid spread but placed the economy in a stranglehold.

Some states are pushing forward with plans to reopen their economies, despite not yet meeting federal guidelines about infection rates.


State agencies have scrambled to handle the overwhelming flood of filings as well as a set of federal eligibility rules instituted to deal with the crisis.

With government phones and websites clogged and drop-in centres closed, legal aid lawyers are fielding complaints from people who say they don't know where else to turn.

About one in six American workers have lost their jobs in the past five weeks, by far the worst string of lay-offs on record. That's more than the number of people who live in Australia.

The closure of business has cost 27 million jobs in the US. Picture: AP
The closure of business has cost 27 million jobs in the US. Picture: AP

Economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20 per cent.

Some economists say the nation's output could shrink by twice the amount that it did during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009.

It comes as debate within the US about states "reopening" their economies is becoming the biggest talking point of the coronavirus pandemic in America.

With unemployment reaching record levels, a number of states plan to start reopening businesses - well ahead of federal guidelines.

Georgia, for instance, is reopening many businesses today, while the government's leading health agency says the state should not do so until June at the earliest.



Meanwhile, Britain's economy has been ravaged by the deadly novel coronavirus, which now threatens potentially the worst recession in several centuries, the Bank of England warned on Thursday.

Policymaker Gertjan Vlieghe, who sits on the central bank's interest rate setting committee, issued the gloomy warning as survey data showed UK business activity shrivelled up this month on the back of COVID-19 lockdowns at home and abroad.


Nurses from The Royal London clap outside the hospital. Picture: Getty Images
Nurses from The Royal London clap outside the hospital. Picture: Getty Images


"Based on the early indicators, and based on the experience in other countries that were hit (by the virus) somewhat earlier than the UK, it seems that we are experiencing an economic contraction that is faster and deeper than anything we have seen in the past century, or possibly several centuries," said economist Vlieghe.

Britain's nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 23 in a bid to halt the spread of the pandemic, mirroring severe restrictions to daily life introduced elsewhere.

It comees as coronavirus cases in the UK have risen to 138,078 as another 4583 caught the deadly disease.

The latest figures from Public Health England also show that the death toll has risen to 18,738 after 638 more deaths were recorded on Thursday (local time).


A London family show their support for medical workers. Picture: Getty Images
A London family show their support for medical workers. Picture: Getty Images



A cruise ship linked to hundreds of coronavirus infections and at least 19 deaths in Australia departed on Thursday, leaving behind a criminal investigation and public outrage over the handling of the stricken vessel.

The coronavirus-riddled Ruby Princess cruise ship has been guided out of Port Kembla by tug boats, performing a water salute as it leaves Australian waters five weeks after it arrived in Sydney.

The ship has been responsible for 21 deaths and at least 600 cases of COVID-19 across Australia.

The Ruby Princess has left Australia. Picture: AAP
The Ruby Princess has left Australia. Picture: AAP

Crew members waved from the Ruby Princess as it left Port Kembla, about 80km south of Sydney and where it was docked for more than two weeks, with a large banner hanging from the stern thanking locals.

It is reportedly bound for Manila in the Philippines.

Police are investigating operator Carnival Australia over the circumstances that led to nearly 2,700 passengers - some showing flu-like symptoms - disembarking in mid-March and going home.

Hundreds were later diagnosed with COVID-19 and at least 19 have died from the disease -


China says it will offer a further $A50 million to help fund the World Health Organisation.

The announcement comes after US President Donald Trump halted funding amid concerns the UN agency is too "China-centric".

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the extra funds were to help WHO contain the virus and support developing countries in improving their public health systems.

"At this critical moment, support for WHO helps to strengthen multilateralism and the UN," Shuang said.

"Led by Director-General Tedros, the WHO has been playing an important role in co-ordinating the international fight against COVID-19 in an objective, fair and professional manner."


The new Chinese donation was announced on Twitter by Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "At this crucial moment, supporting WHO is supporting Multilateralism and Global Solidarity," she wrote.

That funding follows another donation of $A30 million in March, Ms. Hua said. U.S. donations to the organisation have historically outstripped China's: Of the $A9 billion that the agency received in 2018 and 2019, the United States contributed about $A1.4 billion and China gave $A135 million.



Australia's COVID-19 positive cases are on the decline, with fewer than 1700 active and more than 5000 recovered.

With just 12 cases reported on Thursday, the average daily increase in infections has dropped to 0.2 per cent.

While Australia is on track to slowing - and eventually eradicating - the spread of the coronavirus, state borders will not open for at least three to four months.

This means Australians will be state-bound and unable to visit friends and family interstate.

Some elective surgeries have resumed on Thursday, however, which includes IVF, dental and eye procedures as well as joint replacements, endoscopy and colonoscopies.

It comes as the federal government is expected to relax the 40-hour per fortnight work limit for international students enrolled in medical courses in an attempt to boost the number of health and disability workers.

It also comes as the Ruby Princess cruise ship leaves Australia and Prime Minister Scott Morrison warns coronavirus complacency could lead Australia to being exposed to soaring death rates sweeping Europe and the US at the moment.



Originally published as China puts city of 10m on lockdown to curb new outbreak

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