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China reports zero new domestic coronavirus cases for first time

Wuhan and its 11 million people were placed under strict quarantine to keep the number of cases down.

Medical worker Cheng Xiaoxue waits to board a train at the Wuhan Railway Station.
Medical worker Cheng Xiaoxue waits to board a train at the Wuhan Railway Station.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

CHINA HAS REACHED a major milestone in its battle against the coronavirus pandemic as it recorded zero domestic infections for the first time since the outbreak emerged, but a spike in imported cases threatened its progress.

The stark reversal comes as nations across the world have shut down in a desperate effort to contain the pandemic, with more people now infected and having died abroad than in China.

There were no new cases in Wuhan – the central city where the virus first emerged in December – for the first time since authorities started publishing figures in January, according to the National Health Commission.

There were eight more deaths in China – all in Hubei – raising the nationwide total to 3,245, according to the commission.

There have been nearly 81,000 infections in China but only 7,263 people remain sick with the Covid-19 disease. 

The global number has shot past 200,000, with more than 8,700 deaths. 

How did they do it?

Wuhan and its 11 million people were placed under strict quarantine on 23 January, with more than 40 million other people in the rest of Hubei province entering lockdown in the following days.

The rest of China also enacted tough measures to limit public gatherings.

xinhua-photos-of-the-day Medical worker Li Jian makes paper crane while waiting for a train. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

With thousands of patients swarming hospitals every week, authorities in Wuhan tightened the restrictions in early February, confining people to their homes.

Closing off communities split the city into silos, with different neighbourhoods rolling out controls of varying intensity and many of those sealed inside turning to online group-buying services to purchase food.

The measures have been enforced by neighbourhood committees and a string of physical makeshift barriers such as bikes piled on top of one another.

On 10 March, President Xi Jinping visited Wuhan for the first time since the outbreak began and declared that the spread of the disease was “basically curbed”.

On the same day, Hubei officials allowed people to travel within the province for the first time since January, excluding Wuhan.

Yesterday, Hubei authorities announced they were partially opening its borders to allow healthy people from low-risk areas to leave the province if they have jobs or residences elsewhere. This also excludes Wuhan.

Life has slowly started to return to normal in the rest of the country, with people back at work, factories up and running, and schools in some regions resuming or preparing to go back to class.

Second wave

But there is concern about a second wave of infections due to an influx of cases from abroad, with an average of 20,000 people flying into China every day.

Beijing and other regions are now requiring most international arrivals to go into 14-day quarantine in designated hotels.

The National Health Commission said there were 34 more cases brought in from abroad, the biggest daily increase in two weeks, with 189 in total now.

“We should never allow the hard-won and continuous positive trend to be reversed,” Xi said at a Communist Party leadership meeting yesterday.

The disease is believed to have jumped from an animal to humans at a market that illegally sold wild game in Wuhan late last year.

There have also been questions about China’s official figures, as authorities changed its methodology to count infections, and the government has endured rare public criticism of its handling of the health emergency.

Local officials initially attempted to cover up the outbreak, with police silencing doctors who had raised the alarm about the emergence of the new virus as early as December.

One of the whistleblowers, Wuhan ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, died from the virus himself in February, sparking an outpouring of grief and anger on social media.

The first case emerged in Wuhan on 1 December, according to Chinese researchers, but it was not until 9 January the country confirmed a “new type of coronavirus”.

Between 5-17 January, China reported no new cases of the virus, even as Japan and Thailand declared first infections – a period that coincided with annual political meetings in Wuhan and Hubei province.

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AFP

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