In a surprise, if not stunning move, Chinese authorities said Tuesday (March 24) they will end a two-month lockdown of most of coronavirus-hit Hubei Province at midnight, as domestic cases of the virus continue to subside.
People with a clean bill of health will be allowed to leave, the provincial government said. The city of Wuhan, where the outbreak started in late December, will remain locked down until April 8.
This from a country who only back on Thursday, January 23, barred people from leaving or entering Wuhan in a surprise middle-of-the-night announcement and expanded it to most of the province in succeeding days. Train service and flights were cancelled and checkpoints set up on roads into the central province.
The drastic steps came as the coronavirus began spreading to the rest of China and overseas during the Lunar New Year holiday, when many Chinese travel.
The virus raged for weeks in Wuhan, the provincial capital, and surrounding cities. Hospitals overflowed, and temporary ones were hastily set up to try to isolate the growing number of infected patients.
The outbreak gradually was brought under control, and Hubei has seen almost no new infections for more than a week.
The move to end the lockdown shows the authorities’ apparent faith in the success of the drastic measures in much of China. After barring people from leaving or entering Wuhan, authorities swiftly expanded what at the time were unprecedented measures to most of Hubei, with its tens of millions of residents, as well as many other parts of the country of 1.4 billion people.
It remains unclear, however, whether other cities and provinces, such as Beijing, the capital, will allow people leaving Hubei to enter their jurisdictions, and quarantine rules are expected to remain in place for those traveling outside their local areas.