Wuhan's lockdown lifted as China confident in curbing virus spread
By Tomoyuki Tachikawa
BEIJING, Kyodo - China lifted the months-long lockdown imposed on Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, on Wednesday, in a symbolic sign that the country's leadership is confident in decelerating the pace of new infections.
In the wake of the end of the lockdown on the central Chinese city, social and economic activities, which have been stagnant for more than two months since late January, are expected to gradually return to normal.
The move, meanwhile, came a day after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five additional prefectures in an attempt to contain the spread of the pneumonia-causing coronavirus.
As infections have been still expanding across the globe, only China's economy may get back on its feet in the near future, raising concern that President Xi Jinping could try to bolster Chinese influence on the world economy.
The new virus was first detected late last year in Wuhan, the capital city of hardest-hit Hubei Province, and a business and transportation hub with a population of around 11 million.
By lifting the lockdown on Wuhan, China has effectively declared itself free of the pandemic, but the United States and other nations have pointed out that Beijing may be underreporting the total number of infection cases and deaths it has suffered from the outbreak.
On Jan. 23, Wuhan authorities stopped outgoing services at the airport and railway stations, while the city's subway, bus and ferry services were suspended. In addition, residents were asked not to leave there except under special circumstances.
Even though China also rushed to boost its capacity to cope with the virus spread, such as building more hospitals, it struggled to keep up with the rapid increase in the number of patients in Wuhan.
As some people appear to have been unable to stay in hospital despite being diagnosed with the virus or suspected of having contracted it, the Chinese government sent several tens of thousands of medical workers to Wuhan from other cities.
The virus, which causes the respiratory disease called COVID-19, has so far infected more than 50,000 people and killed over 2,500 in the city, according to health authorities.
As a result of aggressive measures to prevent further infections, China reported no new cases of coronavirus infection in Wuhan late last month for the first time since the viral epidemic began making headlines in January.
On Tuesday, it also reported no virus-related deaths in the city. Ahead of the lifting of the lockdown, medical teams have left Wuhan, while subway and bus services have resumed. Some Japanese automakers have restarted production at their factories there.
Analysts, however, say in Wuhan, there are many asymptomatic cases, patients who tested positive without showing any symptoms.
China began publishing asymptomatic cases in its daily coronavirus update last Wednesday, in response to mounting public fears that "silent" carriers may trigger another wave of infection as more people return to work after lockdowns are relaxed.
A Beijing-based think tank has also warned that large-scale protests could break out in Wuhan following the end of the lockdown, as residents unhappy with unprecedented restrictions on their movements are likely to vent their pent-up frustrations.