Across the world, different countries are evaluating the best possible exit strategy from the emergency lockdown and quarantine protocols instituted in wake of the COVID19 pandemic. Some like Japan have already lifted the emergency, while others like Italy, which was one of the worst impacted by the Coronavirus is gearing up to reopen its borders. South Korea, meanwhile, didn’t even impose a lockdown!
Let us have a closer look at the various strategies different countries are employing to lift COVID19 related restrictions.
After drawing much international flak for being unable to contain the spread of COVID19, China has now reportedly reached a green channel agreement with Singapore, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland to facilitate travel for businesspeople and those who are returning to work. (Source: China-Briefing) It may be recalled that China had closed its borders to international travel on March 28, 2020. Even though air travel started resuming, the number of flights was severely restricted with only one flight a week on one route permitted for one country. Travel restrictions are likely to remain in place till June 30. China started relaxing the stringent lockdown in a phased manner from April 8 when it partially lifted the 76-day lockdown on Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Forbidden City was reopened to the public amidst several restrictions on May 1.
Though, officially no new COVID fatalities have been reported for over a month, many including the United States have accused China of under-reporting infection and death figures. US President Donald Trump accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of helping China cover up the crisis, thereby putting the health of millions of people across the world in jeopardy. Meanwhile, a coalition of more than 100 countries, led by the European Union and Australia, has demanded an investigation into the spread of the Coronavirus. Though the draft resolution did not specifically name China, it the one country that has come under maximum scrutiny given the virus originated there. Official number of confirmed cases stands at a little over 80,000. But that figure is disputed widely.
After picking a rather public fight with China and even cutting ties with the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States remains in a precarious situation. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) 1,802,470 people have contracted the dreaded Coronavirus so far with 14,790 fresh cases reported just on Monday! The death toll stands at 105, 157. New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and Illinois remain some of the worst affected states. Varying degrees of lockdowns and quarantine protocols have been implemented in different states, but many such restrictions have also been flouted recently raising fresh concerns about the spread of the virus.
Large gatherings at anti-racism protests are also being viewed as possible places for spread of the disease as protesters have often been seen throwing caution to the winds and not maintaining social distancing norms. Meanwhile, at least one person who attended a Memorial Day pool party at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks has tested positive for the Coronvirus. Officials are now appealing to all those who were present at the festivities to monitor their health and report any symptoms of the disease immediately.
One of the countries worst affected by the COVID19 pandemic, after China and the United States, Italy was the first European country to impose a nationwide lockdown in March. But it took a calculated risk in mid-May and started reopening in a staggered manner. Starting June 3, Italy will permit unrestricted travel to and from other Schengen and EU member states. But the country’s tourism sector is likely to take a huge hit due to the pandemic.
Not only was there significant loss of revenue during the lockdown, the economy could take a further hit if it fails to attract millions of tourists like it usually does during the traditional tourist season in July and August. A country of over 60 million people, Italy recorded its first casualty on February 21. So far, the country has seen 234,000 confirmed cases and over 33,500 deaths.
The Western European economic superpower has over 184,000 confirmed cases with Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia being the worst affected. Death toll stands at over 8,000 so far. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a broad relaxation of lockdown restrictions in the middle of May, following which a brief spike in cases of infection was reported. Germany is slowly reopening with different states lifting the lockdown in a phased manner.
Japan: On May 25, Japan officially ended the nationwide emergency restrictions that were brought about in wake of the COVID19 pandemic. Businesses are reopening, but some like SoftBank and Hitachi are either restricting the number of employees who are required to report to work or reducing the number of days on which they are actually required to be physically present in the office. (Source: Nikkei Asian Review)
Many coffee shops including those from the popular Tully’s Coffee and Starbucks have reopened with shorter hours and stringent social distancing measures. Departmental stores like Mitsukoshi, Isetan, Matsuya, Tobu, Tokyu and Takashimaya have reopened, but most have reduced hours of operation. Aeon and Parco malls have also opened nationwide. Legoland Japan is partially open four days a week (Friday to Monday). Universal Studios is likely to reopen to limited guests such as annual pass-holders from next week. Official number of confirmed cases stands at a little over 16,000 with 892 deaths reported so far.
Meanwhile, situation remain grim in the UK with over 278,000 confirmed cases and over 39,000 deaths. But lockdown measures are being slowly eased after two months of restrictions. From June 1, people in England have been allowed to meet outside in groups of no larger than 6 people maintaining a distance of at least two meters between any two individuals. Similar provisions have been announced for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
People will also be allowed to sit and sunbathe in parks and open areas. While people are still advised to work from home as much as possible, those who cannot, are advised to walk, cycle or drive in a bid to ease the pressure on public transport. Schools will not reopen before August in Scotland and Northern Ireland, though they might in some places in England.
Russia does not appear to be faring well at all. The country of over 145 million people, has over 420,000 confirmed cases and over 5,000 deaths so far. The mountainous region of Dagestan is said to be one of the worst hit. After 6 weeks of complete lockdown, Russians went back to work in the middle of May. There are widespread allegations of under-reportage of infection and deaths rates. However, it appears Russia is viewing this as an opportunity for political one-upmanship. The BBC reported Speaker of Parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin as saying, “This shows that the quality of our healthcare is much better than in the USA,” in mid-May when the official COVID death toll in Russia was just over 2,000.
With its whopping 1.3 billion people and over 200,000 confirmed cases, India is also in the process of exiting the nationwide lockdown in a phased manner. However, the national capital Delhi has over 20,000 confirmed cases and Mumbai, an important international business hub, has over 40,000 confirmed cases. Both cities have a high population density and have lately seen a mass exodus of migrant laborers. There are now fears that these migrants, who are fleeing large urban centres to go back to their villages, might end up taking the infection to interior areas where healthcare facilities remain woefully inadequate. The country has also been unable to scale up testing in a meaningful manner given its large population. Many states have extended the lockdown, especially in cities where the rate of infection remains high. Mumbai, for example, will remain in lockdown till the end of June.
There has been a resurgence in infection after a church linked cluster of 40 fresh cases was reported in Seoul in mid-May. The country is now testing a QR code-based tracing system to track visitors at various places of leisure and entertainment such as nightclubs and bars. The country reportedly did not implement in any formal lockdown, though sporadic curfews were imposed in some areas from time to time. Stringent social distancing even allowed over 29 million people to cast their vote in parliamentary elections held on April 15. The nation of over 50 million people instead focused on quick isolation of suspected cases and thorough contact tracing to check the spread of the disease. South Korea has over 11,000 confirmed cases and 272 fatalities so far.