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Coronavirus update: Forbidden City reopens as China, Spain and South Africa lift strict lockdowns


In China, where the coronavirus appeared, Beijing has reopened city parks and the Forbidden City to limited numbers of visitors as the country’s five-day May Day holiday begins.

In Spain, one of the strictest confinements in Europe is being relaxed and South Africa is easing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with both countries allowing people outside to exercise once more.

Meanwhile, Japan is turning to robots to help care for people with minor symptoms who have to remain isolated in hotels.

This story is being updated regularly throughout Saturday. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.

Forbidden City reopens as Beijing lifts restrictions

Parks and museums including the ancient Forbidden City have reopened to the public in the Chinese capital after being closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Forbidden City, past home to China’s emperors, is allowing just 5,000 visitors daily, down from 80,000.

City parks, meanwhile, are allowing people to visit at 30 per cent of the usual capacity.

Beijing on Thursday downgraded its level of emergency response to the virus from first to second tier, but temperature checks and social distancing remain in force.

The change comes at the start of the five-day May 1 holiday and in advance of China’s rescheduled gathering of the National People’s Congress on May 22.

The province of Hubei, where the novel coronavirus behind the pandemic was first detected, will meanwhile lower its emergency response level from Saturday.

A health official said on April 26 that the city of Wuhan had no remaining coronavirus cases in its hospitals.

South Africa eases one of the world’s strictest lockdowns

Woman exercises in Cape Town
South Africans are now permitted to walk outside for exercise between 6:00am and 9:00am.(AP: Nardus Engelbrecht)

People in Johannesburg, Cape Town and elsewhere have taken eagerly to the streets after South Africa began relaxing its coronavirus lockdown.

As the country eases down one notch to Level 4 restrictions, many businesses can resume limited operations.

Many mines, factories and agricultural businesses can resume work in phases, starting with only a third of employees. Restaurants can reopen for deliveries only.

Many flocked to shopping centres to buy warm clothes for winter, which presents a new challenge in fighting COVID-19 — flu season.

People are now permitted to leave their homes for exercise between 6:00am and 9:00am. A night curfew is in place from 8:00pm until 5:00am. A ban on domestic and international travel remains.

Sales of alcohol and cigarettes remain banned, which some have criticised as puritanical. 

Spain closes field hospital as it moves to lift restrictions

A woman walks with her granddaughter in a recently reopened park next to the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona.
The country is preparing for its largest rollback of lockdown measures yet on Saturday.(AP: Emilio Morenatti)

Spanish authorities have closed a giant temporary hospital in Madrid that had become a symbol of its fight against the coronavirus pandemic as people prepare to emerge from their homes for walks in the street after seven weeks of strict lockdown.

The country appears to be pulling out of a crisis that has now claimed the lives of 24,824 people.

The death toll rose by 281 overnight, according to the health ministry, a small rise from the previous day but still one of the lowest daily tolls in weeks.

Authorities closed down the temporary facility set up at Madrid’s IFEMA exhibition complex amid a drastic reduction in those admitted to hospitals.

However, dozens of health workers staged a protest when Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso came to officially close the facility, demanding more tests and better protective equipment.

Data shows that 41,239 Spanish health workers have tested positive for COVID-19 so far.

Saturday marks the first time Spaniards will be able to go out since March 15 to walk or play individual sports, putting an end to one of the strictest confinements in all of Europe.

Children were able to go out for the first time in six weeks last Sunday, with families gathering in parks and seaside walks.

Japan employs robots to care for quarantined patients

A humanoid robot Pepper wearing a face mask greets Tokyo's governor.
A humanoid robot Pepper greets Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike in the lobby of a hotel.(AP: Eugene Hoshiko)

The conundrum of how to free up hospitals cramped with COVID-19 patients without releasing the virus into the community is one that has stumped many countries, but Japan seems to have found a solution. 

Robots have been deployed at a Tokyo hotel, where people mildly sick with the virus will be transferred to stay until they pass a clean bill of health.

Two robots are key figures in the trial.

Pepper, a talking robot, greets new guests at the lobby and regularly reminds them to check their temperature and rest up.

Whiz, a cleaning robot, operates in areas where patients pick up meals and other daily necessities to reduce infection risks for human staff.

Guests can also access health management applications on computers and tablets to record their temperatures and symptoms.

The robots, made by SoftBank Robotics, will also be deployed at other hotels rented by Tokyo’s metropolitan government for patients with no or mild symptoms.

The hotels are also staffed by doctors and nurses, but officials hope the robots can cheer up an otherwise lonely time for guests who are isolated in single rooms for their weekslong stay. 

Japan has 14,281 confirmed cases, with 432 deaths, according to the health ministry.

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