Coronavirus lockdowns now covering 20% of global population

More than 1.5bn people across the world facing new restrictions to personal freedoms

Andy Gregory
Tuesday 24 March 2020 13:59
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Boris Johnson announces nationwide lockdown to tackle coronavirus

Nearly one in five people around the world are currently subject to lockdown measures as a result of coronavirus.

The UK population was far from alone in grappling with the surreal reality of what several newspapers dubbed “house arrest” as it awoke on Tuesday to unprecedented nationwide restrictions on personal freedoms.

More than 1.5bn people in continents the world over were subject to government-imposed lockdowns on Tuesday, as the number of people infected during the Covid-19 pandemic rose to more than 330,000.

This does not include those across China – save for those living in the outbreak’s epicentre in Hubei province – who have already been allowed to emerge from their homes, meaning nearly a third of the world’s population has been affected thus far by such restrictions.

Addressing the nation on Monday night, Boris Johnson became the latest world leader to announce a ban on social gatherings and confine citizens to their homes except in the case of “very limited circumstances”.

“No prime minister wants to enact measures like this,” the prime minister said. “But at present there are just no easy options. The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost.”

With major European nations such as Italy, France, Germany and Spain all having preceded him in enforcing stay-at-home measures, Mr Johnson had been accused of being too slow to respond to the crisis.

The prime minister also faced criticisms over mixed messaging that saw public spaces bustling over the weekend – despite health secretary Matt Hancock’s claim the government had embarked upon “the biggest public communications campaign in history”.

In the United States, more than 142 million people are currently under lockdown across at least 16 states, accounting for nearly half the population.

An exasperated-sounding Donald Trump, however, signalled he may wish to end such measures earlier than his public health advisers would wish in order to protect the economy, declaring: “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down.”

“I’m not talking about months, I can tell you that,” he later added, appearing to mock experts by saying: “If it were up to the doctors, they may say, ‘Let’s keep it shut down. Let’s shut down the entire world’.”

India – where nearly 500 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed – accounted for by far the largest portion of those on lockdown worldwide.

Nearly two thirds of its 1.3bn inhabitants are currently living under lockdown conditions, with many fearing destitution as borders close and the government grapples with how to offer financial support.

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In Africa, where the virus has reached the vast majority of countries, the continent’s largest nation South Africa joined Tunisia and Nigeria in imposing self-isolation measures.

Growing numbers of African countries have closed borders and look set to follow suit with home confinement measures.

The Middle East is also bracing for such restrictions.

While parts of Israel and Palestine have already been placed on lockdown, Syrians rushed to buy food and fuel on Monday amid expectations the country’s first officially reported case would lead to restrictions on movement.

In Jordan, where residents face a year in jail if they leave their homes even to buy food, an armed forces official told the Middle East Monitor that up to 880 violations of the lockdown had been clocked within 24 hours.

In contrast, those in China’s hard-hit Hubei province prepared to end their official lockdown imminently, save for those in Wuhan, who will continue to be subject to restrictions until 8 April.

The nation is cautiously celebrating a pause in the number of new domestically transmitted Covid-19 cases, after much of the country returned to work in mid-February.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation warned the outbreak was accelerating globally, noting that it took 67 days to reach 100,000 cases worldwide, but just four days to go from 200,000 to 300,000.

“We are not helpless bystanders,” the UN agency’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, urging countries to coordinate their efforts.

“We can change the trajectory of this pandemic.”

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