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Hubei eases coronavirus curbs; new imported cases decline


LIFE started to return to normal on Wednesday after two months of lockdown in Hubei province, epicentre of China's coronavirus outbreak, with traffic controls lifted, construction work resuming and passengers venturing out to catch buses and trains.

Mainland China reported a drop in new confirmed coronavirus cases as imported infections fell and no locally transmitted infections were reported.

Traffic controls were eased at midnight in Hubei, while the lockdown of Wuhan will be lifted on April 8, a milestone in China's war against the epidemic as Beijing shifts its focus towards stemming imported cases and rebooting the economy.

In Wuhan, there were signs of normal life once more. Men in protective masks worked on a bridge as construction projects resumed, and residents waved from their apartment windows as a medical team prepared to leave the city. In Beijing, 800 residents caught by the lockdown had returned from Hubei by Wednesday afternoon, Chen Bei, deputy secretary general of Beijing city government, told a news briefing.

To meet home-quarantine requirements in Beijing, only one person per room was allowed, otherwise people returning will have to be centrally quarantined in government appointed facilities, Ms Chen said. About 20,000 teachers and students from Beijing were still stuck in Hubei.

The Hubei government on Wednesday told workers who had been quarantined at home to go back to work as soon as possible. People were also able to leave Hubei by train and bus, while the Wudang Mountains, a top scenic site, reopened for visitors, according to state media.

Hubei Party Secretary Ying Yong said on Tuesday that while the lifting of traffic restrictions means life is gradually getting back to normal, the government will continue to work hard to prevent a rebound in infections as population movements increase. Even as the lockdown in Hubei is eased, strict measures to control infections from abroad continue to be put in place. The Hubei government said in a statement that anyone arriving in the province from abroad have to inform relevant authorities of their medical and travel history 2 days prior to travel.

Meanwhile, Wuhan customs will strengthen screening measures at ports of entry to prevent imported cases of Covid-19, inspecting 100 per cent of health records and travel history of those who pass through, particularly those who have been to high-risk countries, according to the official Hubei Daily on Wednesday.

To prevent a surge in imported cases, China is ramping up quarantine and screening rules for all international arrivals. Beijing has added another 10 countries and regions including Portugal, the Czech Republic, Greece, Israel, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Hong Kong to a list of existing 15 "high risk" countries, Ms Chen said.

The number of new coronavirus cases in China totalled 47 on Tuesday, all of which were from travellers returning home, down from 78 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said.

In Hubei, no new infections were reported despite three new deaths, including two in Wuhan, where the virus first appeared late last year. On Wednesday, local authorities downgraded Wuhan's epidemic risk level from "high" to "medium". The Hubei Health Commission announced it would lift curbs on outgoing travellers starting on March 25, provided they had a health clearance code.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China was 81,218, with 474 imported infections at the end of Tuesday. The death toll in mainland China reached 3,281 as of the end of Tuesday, up by four from Monday. REUTERS