Coronavirus outbreak

As infection numbers fall, China cautiously brings normalcy back

Just 40 new cases on Sunday; businesses, public facilities start to resume operations

Medical staff celebrating yesterday after all patients were discharged at a temporary hospital set up to treat people with the coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei province. The Chinese city, the epicentre of the outbreak which began last December, is expecte
Medical staff celebrating yesterday after all patients were discharged at a temporary hospital set up to treat people with the coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei province. The Chinese city, the epicentre of the outbreak which began last December, is expected to shut all its 14 makeshift hospitals by today. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

As coronavirus infection numbers continue to fall in China, businesses are slowly resuming operations even as the authorities continue to keep a close watch on people travelling into the country.

The city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak which began last December, is expected to shut all its 14 makeshift hospitals by today.

The National Health Commission said yesterday that there were just 40 new cases recorded on Sunday, the lowest since the health authority began releasing national figures on Jan 20. It also marked the third straight day that daily infection numbers fell below 100.

Of the 40 cases, 36 were from Wuhan, while four were imported into Gansu province from Iran.

While the declining numbers could be seen as a positive sign, the Chinese government is careful not to sound too optimistic.

"It is necessary to be cautious even when victory over the Wuhan epidemic is on the horizon," Mr Chen Yixin, secretary-general of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the Communist Party's top law enforcement body, was quoted as saying by state media yesterday.

Mr Chen, widely regarded as a protege of President Xi Jinping, was last month appointed as deputy chief of a high-level team leading the government response to the crisis.

The team is headed by Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan, whose visit last week to a residential compound under lockdown in Wuhan prompted frustrated residents stuck in their high-rise homes to shout down at her. The estate's managers had apparently arranged for fake volunteers to deliver groceries to various households in the community to impress Ms Sun.

At a press conference yesterday, an official from the Ministry of Civil Affairs said the episode had seriously damaged the image of the party and the government, and should be "resolutely corrected".

Meanwhile, businesses are resuming operations progressively, while public facilities are getting ready to reopen. Wuhan's Tianhe International Airport said it is preparing to resume operations, although it did not specify when in a statement.

Shanghai Disneyland staff went back to work yesterday after the theme park said it would reopen its shopping and entertainment Disneytown zone, along with a park and hotel, as the "first step of a phased reopening". Its amusement park remains shut.

Swedish furniture store Ikea has also reopened 16 of its outlets, albeit with shorter business hours. All 30 stores across the country were shut in late January.

  • Up and running again

  • • Apple's wireless earphone manufacturer in the eastern province of Jiangxi has resumed work, with all its 17 AirPods production lines running.

    • Swedish furniture store Ikea has reopened 16 of its 30 outlets across the country, although with shorter business hours. All were shut in late January.

    • Shanghai Disneyland staff have returned to work in the "first step of a phased reopening". Its shopping and entertainment Disneytown zone, along with a park and hotel, has resumed operations, but the amusement park remains closed.

    • Wuhan's Tianhe International Airport is getting ready to resume flights, although it has not given a date.

    • Some provinces are preparing to reopen schools. Sparsely populated Qinghai province said high schools and vocational schools would reopen gradually this week, while south-west China's Guizhou province said it would let high school and middle school students resume classes from next week.

As infections in the rest of the world overtake those in China, the World Health Organisation's assistant director-general has urged other countries to act fast.

"You have to find the cases quickly and you have to get them isolated and their close contacts quarantined, to be able to break this disease," Dr Bruce Aylward, who led an expert team to visit China recently, told China Daily. "That was the first big message - speed, speed, speed."

Fearing that the growing number of imported cases could unravel its drastic containment efforts, China has in recent days toughened its stance against all those entering the country. The number of imported cases has nearly topped 70.

Major airports have stepped up screenings, especially of those coming in from South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2020, with the headline As infection numbers fall, China cautiously brings normalcy back. Subscribe