As COVID-19 continues its rampant spread across the globe, countries are bracing for a surge in cases; some experts have predicted that the United States, for instance, will reach its peak death toll within the next few weeks. But in China’s Hubei province, where the virus was first discovered, the public health crisis may be slowing down. As the Associated Press reports, Chinese authorities have announced that a two-month lockdown in most of the province has been lifted.
The news came on Tuesday, with officials saying that the lockdown would end at midnight. Wuhan, the city in Hubei where the novel coronavirus was first detected in December 2019, will remain under lockdown until April 8.
Of China’s 81,661 confirmed coronavirus cases, 67,801 were located in Hubei; of the country’s 3,285 deaths, 3,163 occurred in Hubei, according to John Hopkins University's dashboard tracking the spread of the virus. China responded to the crisis by implementing rigid—some say “brutal”— restrictions that effectively sealed the province off from the outside world. In Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, flights, trains and buses were cancelled and highway entrances were closed, according to CNN's Nectar Gan. Checkpoints were set up on roads to prevent residents from leaving. People were not allowed to leave their residential compounds, go to shops, or walk down the street. Officials went door to door to conduct health checks.
The virus raged for weeks, but the pace of infections now seems to be slowing in China. Last week, the country reported no new locally transmitted infections for the first time since the pandemic began. In Hubei, there were no new cases for five days in a row—but on Tuesday, one new case was reported in Wuhan, according to CNN.
Now, Hubei residents—with the exception of those in Wuhan—will be able to leave the province if they have the appropriate QR code on their phones. China has been requiring its citizens to use software that indicates their health status; a green code means that the person is healthy and able to travel, a yellow code indicates that the person has close contacts who are confirmed or suspected cases, and a red code flags individuals who have been “diagnosed as confirmed, suspected or asymptomatic cases, or people with a fever,” reports CNN.
Whether other cities and provinces in China will allow Hubei residents to enter their jurisdictions is not clear, but citizens with green codes will be allowed to travel to Hubei and Wuhan.
While life has not by any means returned to normal there—schools, for instance, will remain closed for the time being, according to Vivian Wang and Sui-Lee Wee of the New York Times—China is now shifting its attention to stopping infected individuals from entering the country from abroad. As of Wednesday, Beijing will require all overseas travellers to be tested for the virus and submit to a 14-day quarantine, reports AP.
Experts worry, however, that the urgent situation in China has not yet come to an end. For one, according to the Times, Chinese officials only include patients who are both symptomatic and have tested positive for coronavirus in their case tallies. Asymptomatic patients who test positive are reportedly monitored and isolated, but not included in public statistics, though they are able to transmit the virus.
“Definitely asymptomatic infections are a potential cause for concern and for transmission,” Malik Peiris, chief of virology at the University of Hong Kong, tells the Times, but acknowledges that it is “not feasible” to test thousands of people who might carry the virus but show no symptoms.
Easing off on restrictions also poses the risk of a “second wave” of cases, Peiris says. “It is important to be aware of it and monitor it—and be prepared to reimpose these measures if they become necessary in the future.”