March 24, 2020 / 12:33 AM / in 17 days

Hubei relaxes restrictions as China's new coronavirus infections double

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Hubei province where the coronavirus pandemic originated will lift travel restrictions on people leaving the region as the epidemic there eases, but other regions will tighten controls as new cases double due to imported infections.

The Hubei Health Commission announced it would lift curbs on outgoing travellers starting March 25, provided they had a health clearance code.

The provincial capital Wuhan, where the virus first appeared and which has been in total lockdown since Jan. 23, will see its travel restrictions lifted on April 8.

However, the risk from overseas infections appears to be on the rise, prompting tougher screening and quarantine measures in major cities such as the capital Beijing.

China had 78 new cases on Monday, the National Health Commission said, a two-fold increase from Sunday. Of the new cases, 74 were imported infections, up from 39 imported cases a day earlier.

The Chinese capital Beijing was the hardest-hit, with a record 31 new imported cases, followed by southern Guangdong province with 14 and the financial hub of Shanghai with nine. The total number of imported cases stood at 427 as of Monday.

Only four new cases were local transmissions. One was in Wuhan which had not reported a new infection in five days.

Wuhan residents will soon be allowed to leave with a health tracking code, a QR code, which will have an individual’s health status linked to it.

In other parts of the country, authorities have continued to impose tougher screening and quarantine and have diverted international flights from Beijing to other Chinese cities, but that has not stemmed the influx of Chinese nationals, many of whom are students returning home from virus-hit countries.

Beijing’s city government tightened quarantine rules for individuals arriving from overseas, saying on Tuesday that everyone entering the city will be subject to centralised quarantine and health checks. [B9N2AR01N]

Men wearing protective masks stand as people hike along a section of the Great Wall in Badaling in Beijing, on its first day of re-opening after the scenic site's coronavirus related closure, China, March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The southern city of Shenzhen said on Tuesday it will test all arrivals and the Chinese territory of Macau will ban visitors from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The number of local infections from overseas arrivals - the first of which was reported in the southern travel hub of Guangzhou on Saturday - remains very small.

On Monday, Beijing saw its first case of a local person being infected by an international traveller arriving in China. Shanghai reported a similar case, bringing the total number of such infections to three so far.

CONCERNS ABOUT NEW WAVE OF INFECTIONS

The rise in imported cases and the lifting of restrictions in some cities to allow people to return to work and kickstart the battered Chinese economy has raised concerns of a second wave of infections.

A private survey on Tuesday suggested that a 10-11% contraction in first-quarter gross domestic product in the world’s second largest economy “is not unreasonable”.

Slideshow (3 Images)

The epidemic has hammered all sectors of the economy - from manufacturing to tourism. To persuade businesses to reopen, policymakers have promised loans, aids and subsidies.

In the impoverished province of Gansu, government officials are each required to spend at least 200 yuan ($28.25) a week to spur the recovery of the local catering industry.

The official China Daily warned in an editorial on Tuesday that maintaining stringent restrictions on people’s movements would “now do more harm than good”.

Reporting by Ryan Woo, Lusha Zhang, Huizhong Wu and Se Young Lee; Additional reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Kim Coghill and Michael Perry

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