Coronavirus update: Back to school in Wuhan as Hungary receives rebuke from EU

Some 1.4 million pupils have returned to school in Wuhan, the Chinese city that shot to prominence for being the original epicentre of coronavirus.

Meanwhile Hungary has received a rebuke from the European Union for taking action similar to Australia and closing its borders to anyone who is not a Hungarian citizen.

This story will be regularly updated throughout Wednesday.

Wednesday’s key moments:

Wuhan goes back to school

School-aged students wearing face masks sit at desks spaced out across a classroom.
More than 2,800 schools have finally welcomed back pupils in Wuhan.(Reuters/China Daily CDIC)

After months of lockdowns children have returned to school in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the original epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.

The city now has not seen new cases of local transmission for weeks.

State media reported 1.4 million children in the city reported to 2,842 kindergartens, primary and secondary schools as part of a nationwide return to classes.

Life has largely returned to normal in Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first detected late last year.

After what critics called an attempt to ignore the outbreak, the city underwent a 76-day lockdown during which residents were confined to their homes and field hospitals opened to assist an overwhelmed medical system.

Wuhan marked a milestone on Sunday when its last confirmed case, a patient who brought the virus from overseas, was released from a city hospital.

Oxford vaccine enters phase three trials in the US

An employee wears a mask, goggles and hairnet at the Brazilian trials for the potential coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford.
The Australian Government has an agreement with Oxford to obtain its coronavirus vaccine.(Reuters: Amanda Perobelli)

British drug manufacturer AstraZeneca said a potential coronavirus vaccine has entered phase three trials in the US to test the effectiveness and safety of the product

The company said the trial would involve up to 30,000 adults from various racial, ethnic and geographic groups across the US.

AstraZeneca says development of the vaccine known as AZD1222 is moving ahead globally with late-stage trials in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. Further trials are planned in Japan and Russia.

The potential vaccine was invented by Oxford University and an associated company, Vaccitech.

Last month, the Morrison Government announced it had signed a “letter of intent” with AstraZeneca to obtain 25 million free doses of the vaccine if it proved effective.

Oxford Biomedica said Tuesday that it had signed an agreement with AstraZeneca for “commercial manufacture” of AZD1222.

The company says it will reserve capacity at a new manufacturing centre in Oxford, England, for an initial period of 18 months, with the possibility of extending the deal for a further 18 months.

Oxford Biomedica says it will receive 15 million pounds ($27.3 million) as a capacity reservation fee, plus as much as 35 million pounds for the manufacture of multiple large-scale batches of the vaccine, if it proves effective.

Manila partially reopens despite high national case numbers

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte holds documents and wears a mask.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte instituted one of the region’s harshest lockdowns, but the country now has South-East Asia’s highest number of coronavirus cases.(Presidential Communications Operations Office: Joey Dalumpines)

Gyms, barber shops and internet cafes were allowed to partly reopen in Manila on Tuesday as the Government further eased quarantine restrictions despite the country having the most coronavirus infections in South-East Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, placed the southern city of Iligan under a mild lockdown after a rise in community infections, underscoring how COVID-19 cases have spread away from the capital, metropolitan Manila, the epicentre of the pandemic in the country.

Night curfew hours have been shortened in most cities in the capital and outlying provinces under the new arrangements, which will last for a month.

Mr Duterte announced that medical personnel, who could be ejected because of fears by landlords that they are virus carriers, would be given free lodging and food near their hospitals.

More than 220,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including about 3,500 deaths, have been reported in the Philippines, which has struggled to find a balance between restricting public mobility to curb the virus and reviving an economy that has fallen into recession.

Hungary’s border closures prompt EU rebuke

A man in a suit stands on stage at a podium
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has come under fire for making the unilateral border decision.(AP: Szilard Koszticsak)

The European Union warned Hungary that it cannot close its borders to all foreigners and allow only its own citizens back in.

The Hungarian Government introduced the measures on Tuesday in response to what it said was a second wave of coronavirus infections in Europe.

Hungarians returning from abroad will now need to quarantine for two weeks unless they twice test negative for coronavirus.

Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, said foreigners now cannot enter the country, except in “justified cases” but he did not elaborate on what those cases are.

Hungary, an EU-member nation of 9.7 million people, has reported only 616 confirmed virus-related deaths and, unlike France or Spain, is not seen as a current virus hotspot in Europe.

It registered 132 new cases on Friday, the nation’s second-highest figure since the start of the pandemic.

Budapest’s latest move adds to growing concerns that European countries struggling to cope with the virus are imposing uncoordinated border restrictions within Europe.

This puts one of the EU’s foundational doctrines in jeopardy, that being the free movement of goods and people.

European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told reporters that “there can be no discrimination between EU citizens when it comes to travel restrictions”.

US carmakers press the pedal on ventilator production

You view a ventilator on display in a manufacturing room with the words 'Vocsn' and 'General Motors' written on its front.
A completed ventilator shown at a General Motors components plant.(Reuters: Chris Bergin)

General Motors says it has finished making 30,000 medical breathing machines for the US Government to help treat coronavirus patients.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) contracted with GM to build the ventilators at a converted auto electronics plant in Kokomo, Indiana, at a cost of $US489.4 million ($663.9 million).

The machines were designed by Ventec Life Systems of the Seattle area, and GM ramped up production in about a month when it appeared the US and other countries would run short of ventilators.

The ventilators were to be finished by Monday.

GM says Tuesday it has turned over control of the Kokomo operation to Ventec, which will continue to make ventilators there and in Bothell, Washington.

Earlier Ford announced it had finished making 50,000 ventilators for the Government.

A portion of a factory near Detroit was converted to make the machines, it will now go back to producing auto parts.