Wuhan exodus sparks virus hope despite mounting death toll

People wearing face masks sit outside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan as people arrive in the hope of taking one of the first trains leaving the city in China's central Hubei province early on April 8, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 April 2020

Wuhan exodus sparks virus hope despite mounting death toll

  • China has come under fire for its handling of the coronavirus crisis that originated there late last year
  • Its march across the planet has affected every level of society, with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson fighting the illness in intensive care

WUHAN, China: Thousands of relieved citizens streamed out of China’s Wuhan on Wednesday after authorities lifted months of lockdown at the coronavirus epicenter, offering some hope to the world despite record deaths in Europe and the United States.

China has come under fire for its handling of the coronavirus crisis that originated there late last year and President Donald Trump threatened to cut US funding to the World Health Organization over perceived bias toward Beijing.

From Wuhan, the coronavirus spread rapidly to infect nearly every country on Earth, killing more than 80,000, battering the global economy and forcing around half of humanity into some form of lockdown.

Its march across the planet has affected every level of society from workers to royals, with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson fighting the illness in intensive care.

But the joy of people finally free to leave — many of them queuing up to depart in hazmat suits — provided some cheer to a gloomy world, offering proof the virus would not last forever.

“You have no idea! I was already up around 4am. I felt so good. My kids are so excited. Mum is finally coming home,” said Hao Mei, a 39-year-old single mother rushing to nearby Enshi to see her young children for the first time in two months.

“I’ve been stuck for 77 days! I’ve been stuck for 77 days!” shouted one man, who arrived at the railway station for a train back to his home province of Hunan.

A robot whizzed through crowds of passengers at the station, spraying their feet with disinfectant and playing a recorded message reminding them to wear face masks.

While China celebrated its first day without coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the relentless disease chalked up fresh milestones in hard-hit areas of Europe and the US.

A total of 1,939 people died in the US over the past 24 hours, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, as the country approaches tolls in worst-hit Italy and Spain.

Virus deaths hit a new daily high in Britain, where 55-year-old leader Boris Johnson was said to be “stable” and in “good spirits” despite receiving oxygen treatment in intensive care.

And Paris toughened its lockdown measures, banning daytime jogging to keep people from bending the rules as France breached 10,000 deaths.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state appeared be nearing the peak of its pandemic but urged citizens to continue staying indoors.

Trump, under fire for his own response to the virus, lashed out at the WHO and said there would be a “hold on money” provided to the UN body, which he accused of being “very China-centric.”

Exhausted medical staff around the world are battling with a stream of patients as makeshift hospitals spring up on ships, at hotels and even in a New York cathedral.

In Barcelona, Antonio Alvarez, a 33-year-old nurse working in intensive care, said his experience of the pandemic was akin to bereavement.

“I’ve had my phases of anger, of denial, you go through all of them.

“Now we are still a little overwhelmed but it is better. Fewer patients are dying,” he told AFP.

The global economy is also on life support as governments pour in unprecedented sums to stem the worst crisis many countries have seen in a century.

While Japan agreed a stimulus package worth around $1 trillion, a divided eurozone is battling over whether to pool debt for “coronabonds” to prop up the economy.

Individuals have also stepped in, with Twitter co-founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey committing $1 billion of his personal fortune to the coronavirus fight.

And the stock market continued its rollercoaster ride, the Dow Jones index soaring around 1,000 points on Tuesday before ending up slightly lower.

The UN’s International Labour Organization said 81 percent of the world’s 3.3 billion-strong workforce is now affected by “the worst global crisis since the Second World War.”

“We don’t know how to feed our kids... and if, God forbid, something happens to any of them, I won’t be able to foot a hospital bill,” he said.
Others have been using their skills to try to lift the gloom.

In Copenhagen, a troupe of circus performers juggle and do tricks from a courtyard for those stuck at home and watching from their windows.


Ex-UK spy chief: COVID-19 could be from Wuhan lab

Updated 04 June 2020

Ex-UK spy chief: COVID-19 could be from Wuhan lab

  • Sir Richard Dearlove cites controversial study saying virus possibly man-made

LONDON: The coronavirus pandemic may have started by accident in a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan, according to a former British spy.

Sir Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK’s intelligence agency MI6 until 2004, told the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that the origins of the virus may not reside in a wet market in Wuhan, where it had previously been suggested that it passed to humans from bats.

Instead, he claims that it may have escaped from a lab, citing a controversial study by British and Norwegian researchers, including Prof. Angus Dalgleish of St. George’s at the University of London and John Fredrik Moxnes, a chief scientific adviser to the Norwegian military.

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READ MORE: Did this Chinese government lab in Wuhan leak the coronavirus?

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The Chinese city is home to two labs that have carried out tests on bats, as well as coronaviruses, in the past: The Wuhan Center for Disease Control and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The presence of both these facilities has fueled speculation that COVID-19 is the result of human error, and that the virus escaped the confines of testing to reach the local population by accident.

It is a theory that has been promoted most notably by US President Donald Trump, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has previously talked of “enormous evidence” that the virus is a man-made pathogen.

It has drawn criticism, though, from many scientists worldwide, and the study in question has been rejected by a number of scientific journals.

Evidence published in British medical journal The Lancet claimed to be able to trace 27 of the first 41 identified COVID-19 cases back to the same Wuhan wet market, reinforcing the original hypothesis.

The US National Intelligence Director’s office, meanwhile, said it took the view of “the wider scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified,” though it added that it would continue to assess all evidence to the contrary.

The study, though, claims to have identified evidence that the virus’s genetic sequence may have been edited, calling it a “remarkably well-adapted virus for human co-existence.” 

Sir Richard said scientists at one of the facilities may have been conducting “gene-splicing experiments” in an effort to identify potentially dangerous pathogens like the SARS epidemic in 2003.

“It’s a risky business if you make a mistake,” Sir Richard told the Telegraph. “Look at the stories ... of the attempts by the (Chinese) leadership to lock down any debate about the origins of the pandemic and the way that people have been arrested or silenced.

“I think it will make every country in the world rethink how it treats its relationship with China and how the international community behaves towards the Chinese leadership.”

The UK government has said it has seen “no evidence” to suggest that the virus originated in a lab.