The Chinese authorities have announced the end of a two-month ban on the province that triggered the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement came on Tuesday when officials said COVID-19 cases in Hubei province are waning. However, cases of the virus are rapidly escalating around the world, causing undue social and economic disasters.
In Hubei Province, China, people with a clean health certificate are allowed to leave their region, the provincial government said, thereby relaxing the unprecedented range of motion restrictions. In the meantime, the city of Wuhan, where the virus was first discovered in a market in December, is to remain closed until April 8.
After that, residents who live in Wuhan can leave their homes, but are tracked using a QR code that monitors their health.
Wuhan, with more than 11 million residents, was banned on January 23 in a surprising nightly announcement. The blockade extended to most of the province in the following days. Trains and flights were canceled and checkpoints were set up on roads in the central province.
The drastic steps came when the virus spread to the rest of China and overseas during the New Year holidays, when millions of Chinese traveled. The virus raged for weeks in Wuhan, the provincial capital and surrounding cities. Hospitals were overcrowded and hospitals were temporarily set up to isolate the growing number of infected patients. In Wuhan, more than 2,500 out of 3,270 people have died nationwide.
The outbreak has now been brought under control, and Hubei has miraculously seen almost no new infections in over a week.
The move to end the ban showed the authorities’ apparent confidence in the success of the drastic measures as they attempt to boost the world‘s second largest economy and put money in the pockets of workers, many of whom have passed weeks without payment. However, it remained unclear which cities and provinces, including the capital Beijing, would allow people from Hubei to enter.
According to Chinese media reports, around 120,000 migrant workers, including many who had started their traditional journey home to Hubei for the New Year, have already been able to depart on special buses and trains in recent days.
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Production centers such as Guangdong and Zhejiang Province are reported to be open to Hubei people. Outside of Hubei, the government says it has resumed work on approximately 90 percent of large public construction projects across the country. While many migrant workers continue to be affected by travel restrictions and quarantines, the factories are back in operation, albeit not at full capacity.
In the Beijing region, the city zoo and parts of the Great Wall of China reopened this week, although advance reservations were required to limit the number of visitors. Some restaurants have been reopened, others on condition that customers do not face each other.
At 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, a line formed in the Xibei restaurant in a shopping mall in the Shuangjing district of eastern Beijing to open lunch, although the managers said they were expected to serve only around 140 customers, compared to the usual 900 daily number before the outbreak of the virus. Half of the 20 tables in the house had “closed” signs to keep the distance between customers, while grocery delivery workers stormed in and out with orders for grilled beef and lamb, noodles, pancakes, and other northern Chinese dishes.
Wu Lin, who works in cosmetics, went out to eat for the first time since imposing restrictions on the outbreak.
“Since (the restaurant) can open at the moment, I think their prevention and control is pretty good,” she said. “For example, they check the temperature of every customer and employee. It gives us a feeling of security. “
Officials have focused their attention on the threat of the virus entering from abroad, with almost all new cases registered among overseas people. China’s national health commission reported 78 new coronavirus cases, 74 of which were imported, on Tuesday.
As of Wednesday, all overseas people in Beijing will need to be tested for coronavirus after being quarantined for 14 days. In a statement published online, city officials said that those who have entered the city within the past 14 days will also be subjected to the mandatory tests.
“The import risk is currently increasing due to the rapid spread of the epidemic overseas,” the Beijing statement said.
The tightened measures – regardless of their final destination – follow an earlier order that all overseas arrivals quarantine at their own expense in certain hotels unless they live alone.
– Associate press researcher Liu Zheng contributed to this report