China has been afforded a breather in the season of breathlessness. With different parts of the world locked and barred, the country showcases a stark study in contrast. Indeed, the paradox, as revealed on Wednesday, is almost exceptional in the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises.
Hubei province, with its capital in Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated, will withdraw travel restrictions as the epidemic there has eased. This is the best news for the region after the story on the catastrophe broke last December. Enough have perished and many more are languishing in hospitals, two of which were set up in the span of a fortnight.
Ergo, Chinese authorities believe the worst is over ~ or nearly so ~ in one of the most acutely affected countries. The Hubei Health Commission has let it be known that it will lift curbs on outgoing travellers with effect from Wednesday, on condition they have a health clearance code. In Wuhan, where the virus first appeared and which has been in lockdown since January 23, travel restrictions will be lifted on April 8.
Altogether, this is a profound testament to the heroic efforts to combat and contain the spread of the pandemic. However, the risk from overseas infections is dangerously real. Which explains the stringent screening and quarantine measures in major cities, notably Beijing, the capital, which in the past two months has never quite figured on the viral radar. Indeed, reports do suggest that fresh afflictions have doubled.
Beijing was the hardest-hit this week, 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 what the Chinese call “imported cases” stood at 427 on Monday. Beijing reported 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. Hence the renewed concern over the fresh bout of infections. Coronavirus has impinged on all sectors of China’s economy, and this could lead to a contraction of 10-11 per cent in the first-quarter Gross Domestic Product in the world’s second largest economy.
To revive the same and persuade business enterprises to reopen, the government has promised loans, subsidies and other forms of assistance. In the impoverished province of Gansu, every government official is required to spend at least 200 yuan ($28.25) a week to spur the recovery of the local catering industry. Hence the warning by the official China Daily that maintaining stringent restrictions on people’s movements would “now do more harm than good”.