Rules once lifted are reimposed to try to curb new outbreaks
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Virus restrictions once lifted are being reimposed, shutting businesses and curbing people's social lives as communities try to curb a disease resurgence before it spins out of control.
Residents of Australia’s second-largest city were warned on Wednesday to comply with lockdown regulations or face tougher restrictions. Melbourne's 5 million people and part of the city's semi-rural surrounds are a week into a new, six-week lockdown to contain a new outbreak there.
“The time for warnings, the time for cutting people slack is over,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said. “Where we are is in a very serious and deadly position.”
Victoria reported 238 new cases, which authorities say may indicate a stabilizing trend underway in Melbourne's outbreak.
Renewed restrictions took effect in Hong Kong on Wednesday, with public gatherings limited to four people, restaurants limited to takeout after 6 p.m., and a one-week closure for gyms, karaoke bars, and selected other businesses. Masks also are being mandated on public transit for the first time, with the non-compliant being fined.
Sammi Li, the owner of the Mibrows salon, said small businesses such as hers are at the mercy of such mandatory closures as there is little they can do to prepare. She expects the cycle of reopening and closing to continue until a vaccine is found.
“We’ll just try to work as much as we can when we are open, to prepare for another closure,” she said.
Of the nearly two dozen possible COVID-19 vaccines in progress, candidates from the U.S., China and Britain are entering final testing stages. The first one tested in the U.S. revved up people’s immune systems just the way scientists had hoped, researchers reported Tuesday as the shots are poised to begin key final testing.
During the last round of closures, Li received a $3,870 government subsidy that covered costs such as rent and utilities, but not income lost. It’s unclear whether there will be subsidies this time.
“It is frustrating because the government is not offering subsidies to cover the loss of no business for one week,” she said.
In the U.S., places like Washington state are delaying timetables for reopening their economies. Gov. Jay Inslee said counties will remain at their current stage of economic reopening at least until July 28.
Inslee warned there was a “significant risk” that parts of the economy may have to be closed again if coronavirus activity continues to climb.
The United States is the worst-hit country, with 3.4 million cases, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. More than 13.3 million people have been infected worldwide, and 578,000 have died.
New Zealand has been a success story in the pandemic by pursuing the ambitious target of eradication of the virus. Some in near-neighbor Australia are arguing more loudly that the Australian government should have also pursued eradication rather than suppression.
New Zealand has not recorded a locally spread case in 75 days, and all 27 of its active cases are people quarantined after foreign travel.
If it has a future community outbreak, a system of local or regional lockdowns would be used and a second national lockdown would be a last resort, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. Local lockdowns might involve buildings, suburbs or a city.
“Our priority will be to control any cases with the least intrusive measures and over the smallest area we can,” Ardern said. “No one wants to go backwards but the reality is our fight against the virus is not over and we must have a plan at the ready to protect our current position if it comes back.”
Some countries including South Korea have weathered the pandemic without severe economic lockdowns, although officials shut schools until May and temporarily closed leisure facilities in some major cities when infections rose. The country’s professional baseball league, which returned to action in May without spectators, is now preparing to bring back fans in the stands.
Instead of placing stringent social restrictions, the country is attempting to contain its outbreak by mobilizing technological tools to trace contacts and enforce quarantines. Smartphone tracking apps monitor tens of thousands of individuals quarantined at home.
But health authorities in recent weeks have said they are finding it increasingly difficult to trace contacts and predict infection routes as people increasingly venture out in the public.
Business shutdowns were not enforced during Japan's state of emergency that ended in late May, but many stores and restaurants closed on their own. Recent spikes in Tokyo and other major cities have prompted local governments to take action.
About 100 infections on U.S. military bases on the southern island of Okinawa prompted Gov. Denny Tamaki to demand the U.S. military to seal off the affected bases. The U.S. military said the affected bases have been placed under a lockdown. Defense Minister Taro Kono said “a number of problems” have been found in the U.S. military’s coronavirus handling.
The southern prefecture of Kagoshima issued a 14-week closure request for dancing halls, bars and other nightclubs after one venue was connected to about 100 infections.
In Tokyo, Gov. Yuriko Koike and central government officials have largely identified nighttime entertainment districts as hotbeds of the recent rises in COVID-19 cases and said shutdown requests were possible.
AP reporters around the world contributed.