China to lift lockdown on Wuhan, the epicenter of its coronavirus outbreak

Government workers walk out of Jianghan Fangcang temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients, which is being shut down, in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Monday, March 09, 2020. As the number of patients drops, the city has begun closing the temporary hospitals built to treat patients with the coronavirus.

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Two months after Chinese authorities locked down the city at the center of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, the end is in sight. 

Hubei province said Tuesday that travel restrictions on the capital city of Wuhan will be removed starting April 8, which would end a lockdown that began on Jan. 23. 

The virus first emerged in the city in late December and has killed more than 2,500 people there. That means Wuhan alone accounted for nearly 80% of the country’s total deaths of more than 3,200.

In the last few weeks, COVID-19 has spread to well over 100 countries in a global pandemic that has killed more than 11,000 people. Countries from Italy to the United States and Iran are struggling to contain the virus, with large cities shutting down schools and public places, or issuing stay-home orders.

New confirmed virus cases in China have dwindled in the last several days, with nearly all now attributed to travelers returning from overseas. 

Travel restrictions for the rest of Hubei province will be lifted starting Wednesday, while schools will remain closed until further notice, according to an online announcement.

In another sign that the virus appears to be under control in China, Shanghai announced Monday that beginning Tuesday, the city’s emergency response level to the coronavirus will be lowered by a notch — down from the most severe level. Zhejiang, the third-largest province by exports, also lowered its emergency response level on Tuesday by one notch.

There are at least three levels of emergency response in China. At least 24 other provinces or regions in China are at levels of two or less severe, Morgan Stanley analysis showed Tuesday, indicating that risk levels in much of the country are coming down.

However, both Wuhan and the national capital city of Beijing remain at level one — the highest emergency response level. The Chinese government is also concerned about more cases coming from overseas, and a resurgence of the disease within the country. 

“The risks for sporadic infections and localized outbreaks have not gone away,” according to an official English-language press release regarding a meeting Monday of China’s leading group on responding to COVID-19.

“With the pandemic rampaging across the world, the situation remains complex and challenging,” the statement said. “There is every need to maintain cool-headedness and not (be caught) off guard.”

Premier Li Keqiang, the country’s second-in-command, chaired the meeting that emphasized that provinces should “restore normal economic and social order” if the spread of the virus has remained low for many consecutive days, according to the release. 

Regions of the country at level three or less severe as of Tuesday account for 32% of national GDP, according to Morgan Stanley.  

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