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China lifts lockdown of Hubei province after almost no new coronavirus cases in a week

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Workers disinfect a train in preparation for the restoration of public transport in Wuhan (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua/AP)

Workers disinfect a train in preparation for the restoration of public transport in Wuhan (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua/AP)

Workers disinfect a train in preparation for the restoration of public transport in Wuhan (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua/AP)

China will lift restrictions on movement in most areas of Hubei province on Wednesday, ending a lockdown of the area brought on by the coronavirus.

People who are cleared will be able to leave the province after midnight on Tuesday.

Restrictions on the hardest-hit city of Wuhan will remain until April 8.

China barred people from leaving or entering Wuhan and the wider province on January 23 as Covid-19 began spreading to the rest of China and overseas during the Lunar New Year holiday, when many Chinese travel.

Hubei has had almost no new infections for more than a week.

The move to end the lockdown shows the authorities’ apparent faith in the success of the drastic measures in much of China.

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People wearing face masks walk through a rapeseed farm used to produce canola oil in Chinas central Jiangxi province. It borders Hubei province, the epicentre of the country's COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Noel Celis / AFP

People wearing face masks walk through a rapeseed farm used to produce canola oil in Chinas central Jiangxi province. It borders Hubei province, the epicentre of the country's COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Noel Celis / AFP

AFP via Getty Images

People wearing face masks walk through a rapeseed farm used to produce canola oil in Chinas central Jiangxi province. It borders Hubei province, the epicentre of the country's COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Noel Celis / AFP

After barring people from leaving or entering Wuhan, authorities swiftly expanded what were, at the time, unprecedented measures to most of Hubei and its tens of millions of residents, as well as many other parts of a country with a population of 1.4 billion.

It remains unclear, however, whether other cities and provinces, such as the capital Beijing, will allow people leaving Hubei to enter their jurisdictions. Quarantine rules are expected to remain in place for those travelling outside their local areas.

Officials have now largely turned their attention to the threat of the virus returning from abroad, with almost all new cases being recorded among passengers travelling in from overseas.

Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities have ordered mandatory 14-day quarantines for all returnees, mainly in hotels and other government-designated locations where those staying must pay their own way.

Exceptions are allowed in some cases, including for those living alone, who must quarantine themselves at home.

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Precaution: A worker disinfects the Hankou Salvation Church in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province, yesterday. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Precaution: A worker disinfects the Hankou Salvation Church in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province, yesterday. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

Precaution: A worker disinfects the Hankou Salvation Church in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province, yesterday. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

In a move to slam the door on the crisis, starting on Wednesday, Beijing will also require everyone arriving from overseas to be tested for the coronavirus in addition to being quarantined.

In a notice published online on Tuesday, Beijing city authorities said those who have entered the capital within the last 14 days will also undergo mandatory testing.

“Currently, the imported risk from the epidemic’s rapid spread overseas continues to rise,” said the notice.

China’s National Health Commission reported 78 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, among which 74 were imported.

At the same time, the government is pushing efforts to kick-start the world’s second-largest economy and put money in the pockets of workers who have gone weeks without salaries.

While most of Beijing’s world-famous tourist sites remain closed, parts of the Great Wall have reopened and some restaurants are reopening for business on the condition that customers do not sit facing each other.

The government says work has restarted on about 90% of major public construction projects across the country, excluding Hubei.

While many migrant workers remain trapped by travel bans, industrial production has also restarted, including in the crucial car manufacturing industry, which is largely based in Wuhan, and in businesses that provide critical links in global supply chains.

PA Media