COVID-19 cases in Wuhan may drop to zero by end-March: China

COVID-19 cases in Wuhan may drop to zero by end-March: China

People wearing protective face masks walk past laundry hanging outside a house
People wearing protective face masks walk past laundry hanging outside a house at a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING: Wuhan, the epicentre of China's coronavirus epidemic, will likely see new infections drop to zero by the end of this month, an expert with the country's top panel on battling the illness said on Thursday (Mar 5).

Wuhan reported 126 new confirmed cases on Friday, but for the first time since the outbreak, there were no other new cases in its province of Hubei.

Outside of Hubei, there were 17 new confirmed cases, bringing the total new infections in mainland China to 143, up from 139 cases a day earlier.

READ: China reports 30 COVID-19 deaths, rise in new infections and imported cases

Zhang Boli said almost all regions outside Hubei had managed to halt new infections by the end of last month, according to an interview with the official People's Daily.

He estimated other cities in Hubei will hit such a target by mid-March, based on data on how the outbreak has evolved, but did not give details.

READ: China bans wildlife trade nationwide due to Wuhan virus outbreak

Volunteers in protective suits walk in between houses at a residential area in Wuhan
FILE PHOTO: Volunteers in protective suits walk in between houses at a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China. REUTERS/Stringer

After what some critics said was an initially hesitant response to the new virus, China imposed sweeping restrictions to try to stop it, including transport suspensions, lockdowns of cities and extending the Chinese New Year holiday across the country.

Last month, Gansu became the first province to lower its emergency response measures from level I to level III, reflecting the lack of new infections.

Tibet became the latest region to lower its emergency response level on Friday, announcing on an official website that some areas had eased to level II and others to level III.

Health authorities in Shanghai said that the city had recorded three new cases in the first 12 hours of Friday. All three cases were Chinese nationals who had studied abroad in Iran, state media reported.

All three had been transferred by Shanghai customs to quarantine on Mar 3, a spokeswoman for the city's health commission told a news briefing.

In another sign things are starting to return to normal, Chibi, a small city just south of Wuhan, said it will remove road blocks and restore normal traffic within its jurisdiction by Friday morning, partly to facilitate spring ploughing.

Community volunteers unload vegetables to be distributed to residents
Community volunteers unload vegetables to be distributed to residents at a residential compound in Yichang city of Hubei, the province hit hardest by the novel coronavirus outbreak. China Daily via REUTERS

Chibi would be among the first cities in Hubei to loosen traffic curbs on travel within city boundaries. Located on Hubei's southern border with Hunan, Chibi has reported no new cases of infections for 19 days as of Mar 4.

However, traffic between Chibi and other counties and provinces remains forbidden, the official Hubei Daily said, citing a notice issued by Chibi epidemic control authorities.

People rest outside houses that are behind barriers blocking the alley in Wuhan
FILE PHOTO: People rest outside houses that are behind barriers blocking the alley in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China. REUTERS/Stringer

FOCUS ON INFECTIONS FROM ABROAD

Chinese authorities have turned their attention to stopping the virus being brought in from new hot spots abroad.

The number of new infections overseas now exceeds the tally of new cases in China, with Italy, South Korea and Iran in particular seeing worrying spreads of the virus. The US death toll rose to 12 as new cases emerged around New York City and Los Angeles.

READ: South Korea reports 196 new COVID-19 infections as death toll rises

READ: COVID-19 death toll hits 12 in US, helicopter flies test kits to cruise ship

Hu Xijin, the editor of the widely read Chinese state-backed tabloid the Global Times, wrote on Twitter that President Donald Trump administration's attempts "to downplay the epidemic is disturbing".

"I have called on Chinese local governments to implement 14-day quarantine for all people coming from the US," he wrote.

Authorities have asked overseas Chinese hoping to return home to reconsider their travel plans, while cities across the country have set up quarantine rules for those entering from high-risk places.

An infected person is known to have arrived in China from Iran last week.

The cities of Shanghai and Guangdong have ordered people who have been in countries with severe outbreaks within the previous two weeks to stay in quarantine for 14 days.

A man wearing a face mask squats in front of a shopping mall
A man wearing a face mask squats in front of a shopping mall as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Shanghai, China. REUTERS/Aly Song

The city of Chengdu in central Sichuan province said it was also ordering quarantine for such people.

The National Health Commission has said authorities are transitioning from "overall containment to targeted containment" measures, with a focus on containment within communities, and medical treatment.

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Source: Reuters/de

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