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AFP
March 30, 2020

China’s virus epicentre on guard against imported cases

World

AFP
March 30, 2020

WUHAN, China: The ground-zero city of Wuhan is cautiously reopening after a two-month quarantine, but the birthplace of the global coronavirus pandemic is now on guard against a potential new threat: imported cases.

Travel restrictions have been loosened, with Wuhan's busy train station officially resuming inbound services on Saturday and highways reopened as the unprecedented lockdown that kept more than 50 million people across Hubei province housebound is lifted.

That has unleashed a reverse tide of local residents who were stranded elsewhere in China -- where many reported facing ostracism or restrictions on their movements -- and are now flocking back to homes they have not seen for at least 10 weeks.

The returnees -- many arriving by train wearing two face masks, latex gloves and protective suits -- bring with them the potential for a new round of infections, and authorities are taking few chances.

Before leaving Wuhan´s station, all passengers are required to register their personal details and travel history before proceeding through temperature checks. They also must show either a certificate of good health or a "green" rating -- for "safe" -- on a mobile phone app system that has been adopted nationwide and uses big data to track whether a person visited any high-risk areas in China.

Without that, travellers must submit to a nucleic acid test for the virus, an official in Wuhan´s Jiangan district told AFP. Those who report or who are suspected of having travelled abroad recently are sent to a separate registration area, where workers in hazmat suits check their details.

"Initially we were more scared and maybe thought it was safer overseas," said Han Li, who is involved in processing returnees to the city. "But now it doesn't seem this way. It seems it might be safer within China."

China claims success in suppressing the virus, with official figures now routinely showing no new domestic infections. In Wuhan, which at the peak of the crisis recorded thousands of fresh cases daily, that has dropped to zero.

But with the United States, Europe and other regions now struggling with their own outbreaks, China is reporting dozens of imported cases each day, and has shifted the focus of its prevention effort to the external threat. China took the dramatic step of announcing Thursday a cut in the number of international flights to just one route per week to and from each country, limiting the passenger capacity of flights to 75 percent, and imposing a ban on most foreigners entering China, even those with valid residence visas. Underlining the risks to Wuhan, huge numbers of passengers have crowded onto trains and buses to return home, threatening to swamp the traumatised city´s containment measures.