Some in Wuhan, the Chinese city hit hardest by the coronavirus, celebrated with fireworks as authorities began removing checkpoints after reporting no new cases for a third day, while other places also eased restrictions.
The command centre handling the crisis ordered that the checkpoints – set up when the city was locked down in January to contain the spread of the virus – be cleared starting from Friday, as Wuhan prepares to return to work.
But routes out of the city would remain blocked, according to a notice issued by the command centre.
A video posted on social media by Dahe Daily on Saturday showed several checkpoints being taken down in Huangpi district, and fireworks being set off to celebrate the removal of one in Xinzhou district.
However, not everyone was cheering the development, with some of the city’s 11 million residents questioning how reliable the official data was.
Wen Ji, who lives in the city and runs photography classes online, confirmed that checkpoints within the city were being removed. But she doubted whether there really had been no new cases of Covid-19 in the past three days.
“I don’t believe this number – I think it’s safer to keep staying at home,” she said.
The crisis would be over when people could come and go freely from the city, according to Wen, who referred to a joke circulating online that “we know we’re healthy, they know we’re healthy … but no one is brave enough to let us leave”.
Andy Wang, a volunteer driver who has been ferrying medical workers to and from hospitals, said he was happy to see the checkpoints go and looked forward to being “honourably discharged” when public transport resumed and he was no longer needed.
“I can see Wuhan is almost at the point of victory, and life will probably go back to normal soon,” he said. “I hope all those who were fighting the epidemic can go home and reunite with their families.”
But it may still be some time before the control measures in Wuhan are completely lifted. Since Tuesday, people living in residential compounds considered to be “epidemic-free” for at least seven days have been allowed to leave their homes and move around within the compound. However, people are still unable to travel freely around Wuhan.
“The entire city needs to be a low-risk area for people to move around freely. We look forward to this day arriving soon,” Wu Hao, a member of an expert team from the National Health Commission, told state broadcaster CCTV. “If the city can also become an ‘epidemic-free area’ then the space for people to move around will be greater.”
There has been at least one suspected case of the virus in Wuhan recently – a 62-year-old man tested negative on Tuesday, positive on Thursday, then negative again on Friday. But since he did not have symptoms such as a fever or cough, he was not classified as a confirmed case, according to a notice from authorities in Qiaokou district, where the man lives.
Elsewhere in the country, other cities have been easing their control measures, with China reporting no new domestic cases since Wednesday.
The eastern province of Jiangxi, with a population of around 45 million, declared all of its counties and cities low-risk zones on Saturday and lifted all movement restrictions on people and goods. People entering public spaces are still required to show their health status on an app launched by the provincial authorities.
Also in the east, Hangzhou in Zhejiang removed a requirement for people to wear masks in places including well-ventilated areas and those with no crowds. From Saturday, people in Hangzhou will no longer have to undergo temperature and health status checks in public spaces and on public transport, local authorities said.
Containment efforts in China are now focused on imported cases. National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said in a press briefing that the number of imported cases had surged 216 per cent since March 11, when there were 85 such cases, to 269 as of Friday. That compared with a 98 per cent increase in total infections worldwide in that period.
“We have to strictly stop imported cases, step up epidemic control and avoid any rebound,” he said.
Some international flights to Beijing were diverted to nearby cities such as Tianjin and Taiyuan on Friday to contain the epidemic, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
Meanwhile in the southwest city of Kunming, around 1,200 people have been placed under quarantine after returning from overseas. Most are Chinese nationals, according to Kunming Daily.