BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The Chinese city at the centre of the coronavirus epidemic has closed the first of 16 specially built hospitals, hurriedly put up to treat people with the virus, after it discharged its last recovered patients, state broadcaster CCTV said on Monday.
News of the closure coincided with a sharp fall in new cases in Hubei province and its capital of Wuhan but China remained on alert for people returning home with the virus from other countries where it has spread.
“The rapid rising trend of virus cases in Wuhan has been controlled,” Mi Feng, a spokesman for China’s National Health Commission told a briefing.
“Outbreaks in Hubei outside of Wuhan are curbed and provinces outside of Hubei are showing a positive trend.”
The virus emerged in Wuhan late last year and has since infected more than 86,500 people, the majority in China, with most in Hubei.
Outside China, it has in recent days spread rapidly, now to 53 countries, with more than 6,500 cases and more than 100 deaths. In all, the illness has killed nearly 3,000 people.
Hubei on Sunday reported 196 new infections, the first time since January it has reported fewer than 200 in a day, the National Health Commission said on Monday.
After what some critics said was an initially hesitant response to the new virus, China imposed sweeping restrictions to try to stop it, including widespread suspensions of transport and extending a Lunar New Year holiday across the country.
Mi said authorities would transition from “overall containment to targeted containment” measures, with a focus on containment within communities, and medical treatment.
Wuhan’s Communist Party chief Chen Yixin hailed the government’s virus prevention efforts and said he expected the number of new cases to soon drop below 100 a day, the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission said.
“The outbreak situation is under strong control,” Chen said of the situation in the city.
Mainland China had a total of 202 new confirmed cases on Sunday, the lowest since Jan. 22. All but six were in Hubei.
The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China reached 2,912 as of the end of Sunday, up by 42 from the previous day.
Hubei accounted for all of the 42 new deaths, with 32 of them in Wuhan.
With numbers of new infections falling, Wuhan closed its first specially built hospital after it discharged the last batch of 34 recovered patients, CCTV reported.
Wuhan opened 16 temporary hospitals, adding 13,000 beds and treating 12,000 people in response to the outbreak.
Eighteen provinces across China have lowered their coronavirus emergency response level in the past week, the latest being Zhejiang province.
There are also growing signs of the world’s second-biggest economy getting back to business after a crippling February that saw factory activity contract sharply.
The economy and information technology bureau in the commercial hub of Shanghai said that 66% of its businesses had resumed operations, though only 53% of small enterprises were back to work, underscoring lingering difficulties for private businesses.
Chinese shares soared on hopes the government would roll out more measures to support the economy. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index adding 3.2% on Monday, its best day since March 2019.
But as the country slowly returns to normal, President Xi Jinping has warned that China needed to take a long-term view of the outbreak and plug loopholes in emergency response mechanisms.
The case of an infected inmate released from a Wuhan prison, who then travelled to Beijing, had in particular prompted sharp criticism over loopholes.
On Monday, a government investigation team sent to Wuhan called the former inmate’s return to Beijing a “serious incident caused by dereliction of duty”, CCTV reported.
In an illustration of the dangers of what has evolved into a global epidemic, Beijing reported two new coronavirus cases in Chinese nationals who recently returned from Iran, where the outbreak has grown quickly.
The Global Times newspaper also reported on Monday an imported case, from someone returning from Italy, which has become Europe’s coronavirus hot spot.
Reporting by Ryan Woo, David Stanway, Se Young Lee, Emily Chow and Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Michael Perry, Roert Birsel