New Zealand virus free, other countries move to reopen

New Zealand announced it is virus free. Public transportation resumed in Jakarta, Indonesia. Stores reopened in Moscow. Students in South Korea returned to school on Monday.

Tatan Syuflana/AP
Passengers wearing face masks wait for a train in Jakarta, Indonesia on June 8, 2020. The hardest-hit city in Indonesia, Jakarta is beginning a phased reopening after battling nearly 8,000 coronavirus cases.

New Zealand appears to have completely eradicated the coronavirus – at least for now – after health officials said Monday the last known infected person had recovered.

The announcement was greeted with joy around the country and means the nation of 5 million people will be among the first to welcome throngs of fans back into sports stadiums, embrace crowded concerts, and remove seating restrictions from flights.

It has been 17 days since the last new case was reported, during which time an additional 40,000 people have been tested, bringing the total number tested to about 300,000. Monday marked the first time since late February there have been no active cases.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was confident New Zealand had halted the spread of the virus but it still must be prepared for more.

“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort,” she said at a news conference. “We almost certainly will see cases here again, and I do want to say that again, we will almost certainly see cases here again, and that is not a sign that we have failed, it is a reality of this virus. But if and when that occurs we have to make sure – and we are – that we are prepared.”

More cases are likely to be imported as people enter the country. For now, the border remains shut to all but citizens and residents, with some limited exceptions. Everybody who does enter has to go into quarantine.

Ms. Ardern announced that the Cabinet had agreed to remove almost all remaining virus restrictions from midnight, with the exception of the border strictures.

“We can hold public events without limitations. Private events such as weddings, functions, and funerals without limitations,” Ms. Ardern said. “Retail is back without limitations. Hospitality is back without limitations. Public transport and travel across the country is fully opened.”

Indonesia prepares to open stores, zoos, and beaches 

Indonesia’s capital partly reopened on Monday after two months of lockdown, as the world’s fourth most populous nation gradually reopens its economy. Jakarta, home to 11 million people, had been under large-scale social restrictions since April 10.

Offices, restaurants, and grocery stores reopened with only 50% of their employees and customers. Public transportation also resumed services. On Friday, all worship facilities in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, including mosques, were allowed to reopen at half capacity and with social-distancing requirements in place.

Schools are remaining closed during this month’s transition phase to the so-called “new normal,” while some shopping centers, zoos, and beaches will reopen next week. Images on social media showed long lines of travelers at railway stations waiting to board trains back to Jakarta, with many ignoring distancing rules.

Jakarta has recorded more than 8,000 cases of the coronavirus, including 529 deaths. Nationwide, there have been 31,186 infections and 1,851 fatalities.

Russia eases lockdown

The Russian capital is ending a tight lockdown that has been in place for more than two months, citing a slowdown in the coronavirus outbreak.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that starting Tuesday residents will no longer be required to obtain electronic passes for travel and can walk, use public transport, and drive without any restrictions. Hairdressers and beauty salons will be allowed to reopen Tuesday, and cafes and restaurants will be able to open outdoor terraces starting June 16.

Under the lockdown imposed in late March, all nonessential businesses were closed and residents were only allowed to shop at nearby stores and pharmacies, visit doctors, and walk their dogs. The restrictions have been gradually eased. Industrial plants and construction sites were allowed to start working on May 12 and non-food retailers were permitted to reopen last Monday.

The number of daily infections in Moscow has dropped from a peak of about 6,700 to about 2,000 recently. Overall, Russia has registered over 476,000 infections, the world’s third-highest caseload after the United States and Brazil, including 5,971 deaths.

Moscow has accounted for nearly half of the nation’s infections and coronavirus deaths. Many of Russia’s 85 regions already have eased their lockdowns.

Other reopenings around the globe

India is reopening its restaurants, shopping malls, and religious places in most states even as its cases grow. New Delhi also reopened its state borders, allowing interstate movement of persons and goods. India already partially restored train services and domestic flights and allowed shops and manufacturing to reopen. E-commerce companies are delivering goods to most places, except containment zones, where the risk of the virus spreading remains high and which are the last places where the lockdown is still being enforced. The health ministry added 9,983 cases, raising India's count past 256,000 to fifth most in the world. The 206 fatalities reported Monday is the highest single-day rise and takes the country's death toll to 7,135. 

China has increasingly opened up with the sharp reduction of cases, and the capital Beijing on Monday said it was reopening the office where citizens can bring their complaints and petitions. China has recorded a total of 4,634 deaths out of 83,040 total cases since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese industrial city of Wuhan late last year. 

In South Korea, schools were fully back in session Monday with the last grades returning to classes in the final phase of the reopening. South Korea’s government is urging people to stay home, if possible, but it is resisting calls to enforce stronger social distancing for fear of further hurting the economy. It has reported 38 new cases, most of them in the Seoul region, where authorities are trying to stem transmissions among e-commerce workers, door-to-door sellers, and people who went out amid loosened social distancing. 

Sri Lankan authorities resumed normal bus and train services on Monday. The island nation had previously operated limited services due to a coronavirus lockdown. It imposed a 24-hour curfew in March. Since April, the authorities have been easing the lockdown in phases. Authorities say Sri Lanka has prevented a community spread of the virus. The country has confirmed 1,835 cases, including 11 deaths.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writers contributed from Jakarta, Indonesia, and Moscow.

Editor’s note: As a public service, the Monitor has removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

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