Large parts of China relax virus curbs

The Chinese government is encouraging businesses and workers to go back to work.
The Chinese government is encouraging businesses and workers to go back to work.

Urged to restore economic activity by President Xi Jinping, large parts of China have relaxed curbs on transport and movement of people as reported new cases of the coronavirus outside the worst-hit province fell to the lowest in a month.

Figures released by the national health authority on Monday showed 24 out of China's 31 provinces and regions - including Beijing, Shanghai and populous provinces such as Henan and Anhui - reported zero cases of new infections on February 23, the best showing since it began publishing nationwide figures on January 20.

There were just 11 new cases in six other provincial-level jurisdictions, while in Hubei province, the epicentre of the epidemic, the number of new cases fell to 398 from 630 a day earlier.

On Sunday, President Xi hailed the positive trend, and urged businesses to resume work and safeguard jobs. He also told low-risk provinces to restore economic activity and output, while high-risk regions focussed on controlling the epidemic.

Yunnan, Guangdong, Shanxi and Guizhou on Monday lowered their coronavirus emergency response measures from the most serious level, joining the provinces of Gansu and Liaoning in relaxing restrictions on traffic and movement of people.

The coronavirus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2500 in China in one of the most serious public health crises in decades. The pathogen has also spread to other countries such as Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

Whether or not China can defeat the epidemic is "a major test of (Communist) Party organisations, party members and cadres of all levels," Xi said, warning officials to avoid complacency.

Hubei remains virtually cut off from the outside world, although the provincial capital of Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak, said on Monday it will allow people in good health to leave the city for essential reasons.

In the rest of China, factories, businesses and construction sites have already gradually restarted.

Large state-owned enterprises have been told to spearhead a recovery in industry while policymakers roll out measures to support struggling small and medium-sized companies.

China's gross domestic product may slow in the first quarter, possibly easing to 3 per cent growth or even lower, from 6 per cent in the previous quarter.

Beijing, which has reported two straight days of zero new infections, is not letting down its guard.

People not wearing masks in public places will be warned, and office buildings must set upper limits on daily human traffic, municipal authorities said on Monday.

At a coffee shop on Friday in the central Futian financial district in Shenzhen, most tables were full, though staff were seen telling patrons to pull their masks back up between sips, and telling them not to dwell over their drinks too long.

Australian Associated Press