- At least six countries have had to restart their coronavirus lockdowns weeks after loosening them.
- China, Germany, Iran, South Korea, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia all reimposed partial new measures after discovering a spike in infections.
- The renewed lockdowns are often limited to various districts where the virus has spiked, or limited to particular aspects such as travel restrictions or a curfew.
- The decision to ease lockdown measures may not have been dictated solely by public health: many of these six countries have been under political or economic pressure to reopen.
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Governments around the world have been eyeing how to bring their populations out of lockdown, with several starting to ease their strict measures.
But at least six countries have had to reimpose restrictions in recent weeks, mainly due to a spike in new infections. Many of these countries had also been under economic and political pressure to reopen.
The renewed lockdowns — some of them total, others partial — are yet to show their effects. But in the coming weeks, they may well give crucial clues about which measures work best as the rest of the world reopens.
China has had a piecemeal reopening
China — where the first coronavirus case was discovered, and the first to impose a lockdown — has had a stop-start reopening the country.
It first closed the city of Wuhan in late January, and gradually shut other regions until around half the country’s population was under some form of restriction by mid-February.
By early March, new reported cases of the coronavirus had slowed to 200 per day or fewer. At the end of the month, the country rolled out a series of reopenings. As of Thursday, the country has seen no more than 36 new cases per day in an entire month.
But reopening has not been a simple process, with authorities in several cities and regions abruptly reversing their decisions at various moments.
On March 23, cinemas were allowed to reopen nationwide, but three days later, they were ordered to close again.
Wuhan residents were told on March 28, after months of lockdown, that they could leave their homes, only for the decision to be reversed five days later.
On Monday, Wuhan reported six new cases, breaking a 35-day streak of zero daily new cases. The government has not reimposed a lockdown but is testing all 11 million residents.
Germany focuses on districts with flare-ups
Germany is gradually reopening, but has had to quickly clamp down on districts that have seen sudden spikes of new cases.
Some shops and schools have reopened, and according to Reuters, the country intends to relax border controls on Saturday.
However, on May 8, local governments had to activate emergency measures in three districts that have seen flare-ups of the virus.
All the spikes were associated with local meatpacking centers in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, according to Deutsche Welle.
The emergency measures activated in those districts — all relatively small areas — included limiting public movements and mandating coronavirus testing for all plant workers.
Indeed, while announcing the lifting of lockdown measures on May 6, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said she stood ready to pull an “emergency brake” on newfound freedoms if necessary.
The country is seeing an overall decline in new cases and has for several days kept the R rate — which notes how many people the average person can infect with COVID-19 — below one.
South Korea clamps down after a club-district outbreak
Throughout its outbreak, South Korea has been admired for its mass-testing and tracing capabilities. On Monday, it ramped up those programs again when it discovered a new outbreak.
Daily new cases, which had lingered at around ten or below for weeks, jumped to 34 on May 9. Many of the cases can be traced to a single nightclub district, Itaewon, in Seoul.
Thirty-four daily new cases is a small figure compared to global averages, but was enough to alarm South Korea, which had considered itself as having a good handle on the outbreak.
Bars and clubs in Seoul have since been shuttered again, and the reopening of schools and some businesses have also been delayed, according to the Straits Times.
The new lockdown came less than a week after officials had removed social-distancing restrictions and told the country to get ready for the start of “a new everyday life with the coronavirus,” The Post reported.
Iran locks one province to continue reopening
Iran, which was one of the earliest coronavirus hotspots, imposed a new lockdown on the southwestern province of Khuzestan on Monday, while continuing to reopen schools elsewhere, Al Jazeera reported, citing the local Tasmin News Agency.
Iran’s cases had been on the decline until May 2, when they reached around 800. After that, however, they steadily began to climb again. On Monday, the new case count was back up to about 1,700.
Khuzestan Governor Gholamreza Shariati blamed this on that lax social distancing in recent days.
Iran began its nationwide lockdown in late February by closing schools, universities, and cultural centers in 14 provinces. In mid-March, it expanded the lockdown by shuttering shops and public spaces.
The lockdown has severely hit Iran’s economy, with people unable to go out during the Iranian New Year — usually a time where a lot of money is spent — and the country continues to suffer under US sanctions.
Iran’s economy shrunk by about 15% during the lockdown, Foreign Policy reported.
Under intense economic pressure, President Hassan Rouhani began to partially ease the lockdown on April 20, even though the country was still recording some 1,300 new cases per day.
As of Friday, the country has recorded 114,533 cases and 6,854 deaths from the virus.
Lebanon locks down for just four days
On Wednesday night, days after lifting its weekslong lockdown, Lebanon imposed a new, four-day lockdown due to a spike in new cases.
Since mid-April, the country had been reporting fewer than ten new cases per day. But on May 7, daily new cases spiked to 34.
Around this time, the country had been just one week into reopening bars, restaurants, hairdressers, places of worship, and some outdoor work sites.
While announcing the new measures, Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed people who did not follow guidelines, according to Agence France-Presse.
The country has mostly avoided a mass outbreak, reporting just 886 cases and 26 deaths as of Thursday.
Regardless, it imposed a strict nationwide on March 21 and even forbade outdoor exercise, according to the Independent.
The renewed lockdown has primarily been imposed for more testing to take place, Diab said. The country will allow pharmacies and supermarkets to operate.
The country’s borders remain closed.
Saudi Arabia has lifted lockdown for Ramadan
Saudi Arabia has loosened its lockdown for the holy month of Ramadan, and plans to tighten it when it’s over.
The country entered lockdown on March 29, closing offices, sterilizing streets, and imposing a curfew with an $800 fine for non-compliance, according to Reuters. The Grand Mosque in Mecca was closed to all but a few visitors, according to Al-Jazeera.
Lockdown loosened on April 24, CBS reported, just before Ramadan, a highly sociable time in which families and friends gather to eat together after fasting during daylight hours.
People were allowed out between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and some shops and malls reopened, according to Agence France-Presse.
On May 3, new cases jumped up to around 1,600, and have risen ever since. And on Thursday, the country recorded some 2,000 new cases — its highest ever count. The country has so far seen more than 46,000 cases.
The country plans to impose a new five-day curfew from May 23, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Whether it will help stem new cases is yet to be seen.