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Workers remove barriers from a street in Wuhan as lockdown measures are eased. Photo: Reuters

Coronavirus: Wuhan lockdown to end in two weeks as China gets people back to work

  • Outbreak’s initial epicentre set to lift draconian restrictions in force for over two months
  • Hubei province to ease traffic controls on Wednesday for those with QR code showing they are healthy
The lockdown of the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first reported, will end in two weeks’ time, the provincial government has announced.

Traffic control measures in the rest of the province of Hubei – which has a population about 60 million, roughly the same as that of Italy – will be lifted on Wednesday, according to Tuesday’s announcement.

Anyone leaving after the traffic control measures are lifted will need a QR code issued by the provincial government to indicate that they are healthy.

A handful of major cities in China, including Shanghai and Shenzhen, had said previously that people with the QR code who arrived from Hubei did not need to go through 14 days of self-quarantine and could immediately return to their jobs.

Tuesday’s announcement came a little more than two months after Beijing imposed draconian measures to put the entire province under lockdown to halt the spread of the virus.

As the global pandemic gains momentum – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called it the worst crisis since the second world war – China has declared that it has brought the outbreak under control.

Before Tuesday’s announcement, measures had already been taken to push the province back towards normality. Two major car factories in Wuhan, Dongfeng Toyota and Dongfeng Motor, restarted their production lines on Monday.

Stranded in Wuhan, the people who just want to go home

A senior ad hoc government group on the pandemic, chaired by Premier Li Keqiang, said on Monday that transmission of the local pandemic had largely been “cut off”, although there were still risks of sporadic outbreaks.

Last week’s meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee called on Wuhan to restore business operations step by step, and other parts of Hubei province to lift lockdown measures in an “orderly” way.

As new local cases continued to drop nationwide, doctors sent to Hubei from across the country have begun to leave in the past week.

Fireworks in Wuhan as coronavirus checkpoints are taken down

Top of Beijing’s agenda is the need to help the economy recover, with the central government cutting taxes and fees for China’s small and medium-sized enterprises, in an attempt to prevent widespread lay-offs and bankruptcies.

Wuhan University law professor Qin Qianhong said it had become urgent to lift the quarantine measures in Hubei.

“No country other than Italy has imposed similar lockdowns so far,” he said. “Many people have been confined to their homes for more than 60 days already and that could cause serious mental health issues.”

Qin added that the mass quarantine had reached a critical point at which many people under lockdown could not make ends meet if they could not return to their jobs elsewhere in the country.

But he said that as the city and the province opened up and allowed more internal human movement, there would still be a chance of new infections.

After a few days of reporting no new cases, Wuhan reported one infection on Tuesday. The patient was a doctor at the provincial Renmin Hospital, raising concerns that there may be a previously unknown outbreak at the hospital.

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This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Wuhan lockdown nears end as normality returns