China eases restrictions on 50m residents of Hubei province
China announced on Tuesday that a lockdown would be lifted on more than 50m people in central Hubei province where the coronavirus first emerged late last year.
But fears rose over a second wave of infections in the country fuelled by people arriving from overseas.
After two months living with draconian curbs on daily life, residents will be allowed to leave Hubei from midnight Tuesday if healthy, provincial authorities said.
Wuhan city — the initial epicentre of the outbreak — will end restrictions from April 8.
Hubei ordered the shutdown in January but has been gradually easing rules and permitting people to move about within the province and return to work.
People who wish to travel in or out of Hubei or Wuhan will be able to as long as they have a “green” health code issued by authorities, but schools will remain closed.
“I'm super happy,” Hubei native Zoe Wang said. “I'm going to be able to go back and see my parents.”
“I really want freedom as soon as possible,” one Wuhan resident named Willa said.
New cases have slowed dramatically over the last month, though the first locally transmitted infection in nearly a week was reported in Wuhan on Tuesday, along with three cases elsewhere in China.
The figures pale in comparison to imported cases, fuelling anxiety about a possible second wave of infections just as the outbreak appeared to be coming under control.
Seven more people died, all in Wuhan, the National Health Commission said.
Tuesday's 74 new imported cases were the most since officials started reporting the data at the beginning of March, and nearly double Monday's figure.
As nations across the globe battle to contain the pandemic, China's tally of imported cases soared to 427.
Most of them — 380 people — were returning Chinese nationals, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
Many cities have brought in tough rules to quarantine arrivals, and all Beijing-bound international flights are being diverted to other urban centres where passengers are screened for the virus.
Beijing authorities also said anyone entering China via another city before making their way to the capital in the last two weeks would be tested for the virus and told to enter quarantine.
But there are signs that life is returning to normal, with authorities saying on Tuesday that a popular section of the Great Wall would reopen.
There have been more than 81,171 cases of Covid-19 in China and 3,277 deaths from the virus. — AFP