China on Tuesday decided to lift the three-month lockdown on more than 56 million people in the central Hubei province, the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, on Wednesday amid warnings by experts of a looming second wave of the COVID-19 infections in the country due to the steady rise in "imported cases".
The prolonged lockdown of Hubei's capital Wuhan will end on April 8, lifting the mass quarantine over the city with a population of over 11 million.
Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus cases were first detected in December last year on Monday reported one new confirmed case of the COVID-19 after reporting zero cases for five consecutive days.
Hubei province and Wuhan city which together have over 56 million population were kept under strict lockdown since January 23 with a ban on all movement of people and transportation.
China is embarking on a major step to open up its coronavirus epicentres just as India and the world is seriously grappling with the fast-paced spread of the disease which has become a global pandemic forcing most of the countries to go into a lockdown mode.
People in Wuhan will be allowed to leave the city and Hubei Province, if they hold a green health code, meaning no contact with any infected or suspected COVID-19 cases, according to a circular issued by the provincial COVID-19 control headquarters, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Wuhan will take differentiated measures to promote the resumption of business operations based on the health risks of different regions to mitigate the impact on the economy, the circular said.
Other areas in Hubei will lift outbound transportation restrictions from Wednesday.
Migrant workers who hold green cards and get negative nucleic acid testing results will be sent out of the province to their workplace directly.
On January 23, Wuhan declared unprecedented traffic restrictions, including suspending the city's public transport and all outbound flights and trains, in an attempt to contain the epidemic within its territory. Similar restrictions were soon introduced in other areas in Hubei.
Local officials announced plans to gradually ease the severe measures as the virus cases dropped dramatically in recent days.
Hubei, however saw seven new deaths on Monday, all of which were in Wuhan, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 3,160.
The province still has 4,200 patients being treated in hospitals of which 1,203 were still in severe condition and another 336 in critical condition, according to China's National Health Commission.
Hubei has so far reported a total of 67,801 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 50,006 in Wuhan reflecting on the intensity with which the vicious virus, reportedly emerged from a local live animal market in the city shook the province.
On Tuesday, the NHC reported 78 new confirmed cases, including 74 imported infections taking their total to 427.
The overall confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland has reached 81,171 by the end of Monday. This included 3,277 people who died of the disease, 4,735 patients who were still being treated and 73,159 patients discharged after recovery, the NHC said on Tuesday.
While the gradual opening of Hubei province will enable its over 56 million to emerge out of the strict lockdown which also effectively shielded the grim stories of their suffering, there are apprehensions highlighted in the Chinese official media about how they will be received in the rest of the country considering the stigmatisation of the areas with COVID-19 and its deadly nature of transmission.
As the virus emerged in Wuhan, several foreign countries, including India, has evacuated their nationals and subjected them to stringent quarantine procedures to ensure the virus is not spread back home.
Also as China appeared eager to reopen the country starting factories and business to make up for the lost time, Chinese experts warned of a possible second wave of the COVID-19 virus attack.
The total number of imported cases of the virus reached 427 on Tuesday as a large number of overseas Chinese especially in countries like Italy which have now emerged as the new COVID-19 epicentres arrived back home.
Loopholes in screening processes at customs and inadequate quarantine measures upon entry into the Chinese cities as well as a high proportion of asymptomatic cases are making the second wave of novel coronavirus outbreak highly likely, even inevitable, as the global pandemic continues to worsen, state-run Global Times reported on Tuesday.
Although a drop in new cases is reported on a daily basis, all new cases now are imported infections, sparking serious concerns over a looming second outbreak in China, it said.
China's epidemiologist Li Lanjuan told media here on Monday that China still faces a severe situation currently due to the surge in imported cases from other countries and regions.
"China is already facing the risk of a second outbreak as the number of imported cases already reached a small peak," Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the Global Times.
However, various Chinese medical experts believed that a second outbreak is unlikely, considering the country's stringent measures and experiences during the past two months in combating the disease.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)