BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities announced Tuesday that the confinement imposed two months ago in much of Hubei province, the hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak, will end at midnight, while the number of cases continued to subside. People without health problems will be able to leave, explained the provincial government. The city of Wuhan, where the outbreak originated at the end of December, will remain isolated until April 8.
China prevented Wuhan from entering and leaving on 23 January in a surprise midnight announcement, and extended restrictions to most of the province in the following days. Trains and flights were cancelled and controls were installed on the roads of the central region of the country. The drastic measure was taken when the new coronavirus began to expand to the rest of China and abroad during the Lunar New Year, a holiday that many Chinese take advantage of to travel. The virus spread for weeks through Wuhan, the provincial capital, and nearby cities. Hospitals overflowed and other storms quickly rose to try to isolate the growing number of people infected.
Gradually, the outbreak was controlling and Hubei has not reported new cases for almost a week.
The decision to lift quarantine shows the authorities’ apparent confidence in the success of drastic measures in much of China. After arming Wuhan, what was then unprecedented measures in most of Hubei, where tens of millions of people live, as well as other areas of the country of 1.4 billion people, was quickly decreed. However, it remains unclear whether other cities and provinces, such as the capital Beijing, will allow those leaving Hubei to enter their jurisdictions, and quarantine rules are expected to remain in place for those traveling outside their areas. Authorities have now turned their attention to the threat of the virus returning to the country from abroad. Most new cases occur in people coming from outside. Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities have imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all returners, to meet in hotels or elsewhere selected by the government and whose expenses are borne by the isolate. Some exceptions are allowed, as in the case of those who live alone, who will be able to comply with it in their homes. Determined to close the door to the crisis, from Wednesday, Beijing will also demand that anyone arriving from abroad pass a coronavirus test in addition to isolation. The National Health Commission reported 78 new cases on Tuesday, of which 74 were imported. At the same time, the government is stepping up its efforts to revive the world’s second-largest economy and bring money into the pockets of workers who have been without a wage for weeks. While most of the capital’s tourist attractions will remain closed, large stretches of the Great Wall will open, as well as some restaurants, which will not allow their customers to sit face to face.