Authorities in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic began were moving forward Wednesday with efforts to test all 11 million residents for the virus within 10 days after a handful of fresh infections were found there.
The U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, meanwhile, issued a blunt warning that cities and states could see more COVID-19 deaths and economic damage if they lift stay-at-home orders too quickly — a sharp contrast to U.S. President Donald Trump, who is pushing to right a free-falling economy.
“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control,” Dr. Anthony Fauci warned a Senate committee and the nation Tuesday as more than two dozen states have begun to lift their lockdowns.
The tension in balancing people’s safety from the virus against the severe economic fallout is playing out in many other countries, too. Italy partially lifted lockdown restrictions last week only to see a big jump in confirmed coronavirus cases in its hardest-hit region. Pakistan reported 2,000 new infections in a single day for the first time after the easing of its lockdown saw crowds of people crammed into markets throughout the country.
China, the first nation to put a large number of its citizens under lockdown and the first to ease those restrictions, has been strictly guarding against any resurgence.
District health commissions and neighbourhood committees in the city of Wuhan have been told to develop a plan to test all residents in their jurisdictions, local media reports said. The directive also said the testing should focus on the elderly, densely populated areas and places with mobile populations.
A person who answered the mayor’s hotline in Wuhan on Wednesday said local districts had been given 10 days to carry out the tests. The official declined to give his name because she was not authorized to speak to reporters.
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The first cases of the new coronavirus were found in Wuhan in December, and by the end of January the government had placed the entire city and the surrounding region, home to more than 50 million people, under a strict lockdown.
A cluster of six new cases was recently found in one part of the city, the first local infections the government has reported in Wuhan since before the lockdown was eased in early April.
It wasn’t clear how many people would actually still need to be tested, as one expert at Wuhan University told the Global Times newspaper that up to 5 million residents of Wuhan have already been tested since the outbreak began.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 4.2 million people and killed over 291,000 — with more than 82,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, the world’s highest toll. Experts say the actual numbers are likely far higher.