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Coronavirus: U.S. and Europe tighten lockdowns as restrictions lift in origin of pandemic

Residents of Wuhan will be allowed to travel out of the province for work as early as Wednesday.

LONDON — As millions of people across the globe adjusted to life under tightening lockdowns Tuesday, restrictions began to slowly ease in China, where the coronavirus pandemic originated.

The lockdown imposed on the city of Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first detected, is set to end April 8, the provincial Hubei Epidemic Control Task Force Command Center announced. Residents will be allowed to travel out of the province for work as early as Wednesday once they pass a test for the virus.

Public transportation in Wuhan, in Hubei province, began running test services Monday anticipating the return to normal life.

More than 380,000 people worldwide have been confirmed to have the coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in Hubei late last year, according to Johns Hopkins University, resulting in more than 16,500 deaths.

But in Britain, people woke up to greater restrictions on their movements and activities after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a sweeping nationwide lockdown late Monday that will prohibit gatherings of more than two people and almost all social events, such as weddings and christenings.

“You must stay home,” Johnson said during a televised speech to the nation Monday evening. “The critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.”

People can exercise outside once a day, but at a safe distance from others, and shopping should be limited to essentials. All stores selling nonessential goods and other public gathering places such as libraries, places of worship and playgrounds were ordered closed. Johnson said the police would also be given the authority to disperse gatherings and issue fines for noncompliance.

“The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost,” he said.

Yet Tuesday, photos of packed subways across London were circulating on social media.

The movement has had repercussions. A growing number of transit workers have been calling in sick and are self-isolating, further reducing services, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in tweet.

"If you have to work, please don't travel at rush hour," Khan said, in an attempt to limit contact and congestion.

France, meanwhile, enacted a two-month state of emergency on Tuesday with tighter measures than what was first introduced nearly two weeks ago.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe banned open street markets in his televised address and limited physical exercise to within a roughly half-mile radius of people’s homes. Any outings must be limited to one hour and be documented, he said.

With restrictions on movement and activities of varying degrees being implemented across Europe, New Zealand, Canada, and parts of Africa, South America, India and the United States, the lives of an upward of 1.4 billion people are affected.

Image: A staff member sprays disinfectant at Wuhan Railway Station in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province
A staff member sprays disinfectant at Wuhan Railway Station in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on TuesdayAFP - Getty Images

In the United States, Michigan, Indiana, Oregon and West Virginia were among the growing number of states to issue stay-at-home orders as cases of the virus continue to rise.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day lockdown period that will go into effect midnight Thursday. The measures were a response to the jump in confirmed cases of the virus Monday from 128 to 402.

South Africa will be the third country in Africa to close down all but essential economic activity, after Rwanda and Tunisia, and its measures will be enforced by police and the military, Ramaphosa said.

The government of the West African nation of Senegal declared a state of emergency Monday night after 79 people were confirmed to have the virus. Travel between regions would be restricted, public spaces closed, gatherings banned and a curfew is being imposed, President Macky Sall said.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha also declared a state of emergency Tuesday to enact stricter measures, which go into effect Thursday.

Linda Givetash and Matthew Mulligan reported from London, Leou Chen reported from Beijing and Nancy Ing reported from Paris.