China cancels flights, classes over new outbreak as India deaths soar

A man wearing a protective suit uses his phone at Beijing’s international airport on June 17, 2020. – Beijing’s airports cancelled more than 1,200 flights and schools in the Chinese capital were closed again on June 17 as authorities rushed to contain a new coronavirus outbreak linked to a wholesale food market. (Photo by STR / AFP)

by Jing Xuan Teng and Laurie Chen, with AFP Bureaus
Agence France-Presse

BEIJING, China (AFP) — China closed schools in Beijing and restricted air travel from the capital on Wednesday to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections, as India’s death toll spiked.

The new Chinese cluster and surging infections in Latin America and South Asia have raised fresh doubts about how soon the world can control the pandemic, which has seen more than 8.1 million cases and nearly 440,000 deaths.

While hopes were boosted by a “breakthrough” treatment that could reduce deaths among COVID-19 patients, the lack of a vaccine means nations have to rely on some form of lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus.

After 31 more cases were reported in Beijing, Chinese authorities on Wednesday cancelled more than 1,200 flights from the capital’s main airports, state media reported, adding to restrictions placed earlier on close to 30 residential compounds.

“The situation is serious and people don’t want to come out,” said Bai Xue, a staff member at a Beijing restaurant which put up a notice online saying it has not sourced food from Xinfadi — the sprawling wholesale market linked to the new outbreak.

People wearing protective gear are pictured inside the terminal at Beijing’s international airport on June 17, 2020. – Beijing’s airports cancelled more than 1,200 flights and schools in the Chinese capital were closed again on June 17 as authorities rushed to contain a new coronavirus outbreak linked to a wholesale food market. (Photo by STR / AFP)

With nearly 140 cases now reported from Beijing, authorities in the city shut schools once again and urged residents not to leave as thousands were tested for the coronavirus.

While the fears in China are about a full-blown second wave of infections after largely bringing its outbreak under control, other nations such as India are just beginning to feel the full force of the pandemic.

The South Asian nation of 1.3 billion people reported a sharp spike in deaths to nearly 12,000, and now has the fourth-highest COVID-19 caseload in the world.

A civil defence volunteer prepares a bed at a banquet hall temporarily converted into isolation ward for COVID-19 coronavirus patients after the government eased a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in New Delhi on June 15, 2020. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)

Hospitals in India’s financial capital Mumbai have been overwhelmed by cases, and authorities in Delhi have taken over hotels and banquet halls to put house patients.

There have been surges too in Iran and Saudi Arabia, while eyes remain on Latin America, the new epicentre.

Aerial view of activists from the Brazilian NGO Rio de Paz digging mock graves, on Copacabana beach symbolizing deaths due to the COVID-19 coronavirus and protest against Brazil’s “bad governance” of the pandemic, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 11, 2020. (Photo by FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR / AFP)

Brazil, the worst-hit nation after the United States, reported its highest daily jump in cases, while Peru’s death toll surged past 7,000.

‘Lifesaving breakthrough’

Without a vaccine or effective treatment, lockdowns in some form remain the main weapon against coronavirus for governments facing rising political and economic pressure.

There was some good news on that front — a study in Britain found that a treatment using a widely available steroid drug called dexamethasone could reduce deaths among coronavirus patients.

A box of dexamethasone injection ampoules is photographed at a chemists shop in London on June 16, 2020. – The steroid dexamethasone was shown Tuesday to be the first drug to significantly reduce the risk of death among severe COVID-19 cases, in trial results hailed as a “major breakthrough” in the fight against the disease. (Photo by Arman SOLDIN / AFP)

World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus congratulated scientists for the “lifesaving scientific breakthrough”.

Researchers led by a team from the University of Oxford administered the drug to more than 2,000 severely ill COVID-19 patients.

Among those who could only breathe with the help of a ventilator, it reduced deaths by 35 percent.

“Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide,” said Oxford professor Peter Horby.

‘A little bit weird’

European nations including Belgium, France, Germany and Greece have begun lifting border restrictions, hoping to save the summer tourism season.

But life is far from normal despite dropping case numbers in such countries.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 27, 2017 A corner flag displaying Liverpool’s club crest is pictured in the sunshine ahead of the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England. – The Premier League returns on June 17, 2020, after 100 days in the deep freeze, with Liverpool still on the brink of the title but a radically changed landscape after the coronavirus lockdown. The English top-flight follows Germany’s Bundesliga and La Liga in Spain in rebooting their seasons, with Aston Villa kicking off against Sheffield United. (Photo by Anthony DEVLIN / AFP)

The English Premier League, which has a massive following among football fans worldwide, will resume on Wednesday after a long suspension because of the pandemic — but the games will be played in empty stadiums.

Organisers have urged supporters not to congregate outside venues, as that could lead to fresh outbreaks.

There are plans to pipe crowd sounds into stadiums to mimic matchday atmosphere and place cardboard cut-outs of supporters in the stands, but Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said things would still be “a little bit weird”.

© Agence France-Presse