Mainland China saw a doubling in new coronavirus cases driven by a jump in infected travellers returning home from overseas, raising the risk of transmissions in Chinese cities and provinces that had seen no new infections in recent days.
China had 78 new cases on Monday, the National Health Commission said, a two-fold increase from Sunday. Of the new cases, 74 were imported infections, up from 39 imported cases a day earlier.
The Chinese capital Beijing was the hardest-hit, 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 imported cases stood at 427 as of Monday.
China is now tightening restrictions in Beijing and other major cities, as it relaxes them in the epicentre of the virus, Hubei province, which has seen a steady easing of the epidemic.
On Tuesday, the Hubei Health Commission said it would lift travel restrictions on people leaving the province starting March 25, with the exception of the provincial capital Wuhan.
Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak in China, will see travel restrictions lifted on April 8.
The city has been under lockdown since Jan. 23 when the government shut down roads, railways and airports. Residents will soon be allowed to leave with a health tracking code, a QR code which will have an individual’s health status linked to it.
In other parts of the country, authorities have continued to impose tougher screening and quarantine and have diverted international flights from Beijing to other Chinese cities, but that has not stemmed the influx of Chinese nationals, many of whom are students returning home from virus-hit countries.
Beijing’s city government tightened quarantine rules for individuals arriving from overseas, saying on Tuesday that everyone entering the city will be subject to centralised quarantine and health checks.
The southern city of Shenzhen said on Tuesday it will test all arrivals and the Chinese territory of Macau will ban visitors from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The number of local infections from overseas arrivals – the first of which was reported in the southern travel hub of Guangzhou on Saturday – remains very small.
On Monday, Beijing saw 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.
CONCERNS ABOUT NEW WAVE OF INFECTIONS
Of China’s four new locally transmitted infections on Monday, one was in Wuhan, the capital of central Hubei province. This follows five days of no new infections in the city.
The newly-infected individual is a doctor at a hospital in Wuhan, according to a statement from the local government’s health commission. They have not ruled out that the doctor may have been infected while at the hospital.
Guangdong reported on Monday a local case linked to an infected individual from Hubei.
Policymakers are conscious of the potential social instability and economic disruption that a new wave of infections could cause, especially in Hubei, where factories and businesses are only just starting to resume work.
A private survey on Tuesday suggested that a 10-11% contraction in first-quarter gross domestic product “is not unreasonable”.
Many Chinese say they remain worried about the possibility of a new wave of infections as more people return to work as severe travel restrictions are eased with slowing infections.
They are also cautious of spending too much, concerned about job security as the economy slows.
The epidemic has hammered all sectors of the economy – from manufacturing to tourism. To persuade businesses to reopen, policymakers have promised loans, aids and subsidies.
In Beijing, the city is reopening the Badaling section of the Great Wall, an infamously crowded part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the impoverished province of Gansu, government officials are each required to spend at least 200 yuan ($28.25) a week to spur the recovery of the local catering industry