China recovers some economic activity, but normality still far away

By Javier García

Beijing, March 13 (efe-epa).- China said Friday that most of the country’s companies had resumed their activity outside Hubei province, where the COVID-19 pandemic originated, despite drastic measures to fight the virus remaining in place and most of the population remaining under lockdown.

Xin Guobin, the country’s industry vice minister, said about 95 percent of the country’s large companies, with the exception of those located in Hubei, and 60 percent of small and medium-sized companies have already resumed their activity.

However, life in many cities in the country continues under bare minimums, as millions of migrants who traveled to their home regions to celebrate the Lunar New Year almost two months ago have yet to return to the workplace or are in quarantine. Thousands of commercial and office premises remain closed in Beijing and other cities.

“China is trying to return to work after imposing strict restrictions on the transport and mobility of people to curb the spread of the virus,” Xin said in a Monday news conference in the capital.

He said he considered the measures “unusual” but that they had “made the country contain the epidemic in a preliminary manner,” although he did not specify which of those restrictions on transport or mobility have been lifted.

Wuhan and much of Hubei province remain under strict quarantine, and in the rest of the country, most people continue to work from home.

More cars can be seen on the streets of the capital than a few days ago but there are very few people for what is usual in China and the residential buildings continue with strict entry and exit controls.

“Returning to work, resuming production and business is essential and is being done in a coordinated way,” the vice minister said, although he acknowledged that many companies still face “shortages of funds, personnel and supplies.”

“In general, the efficiency of the operation of the industrial chain is low,” Xin said, adding that “the spread of the virus around the world is creating many uncertainties to return to work in China.”

The cases of infected people arriving from abroad remain one of Chinese authorities’ main concerns.

The country’s health commission has so far detected 88 such cases, three more in the last 24 hours, although it is difficult to know how many of those who return are actually infected, since those who arrive in the country undergo a 15-day quarantine.

Those three “imported” cases and five others that occurred in Wuhan City were the only eight new infections reported Friday, the lowest in the country since the epidemic began.

It is also the smallest number of infections diagnosed in Wuhan, the city of 11 million inhabitants where the outbreak supposedly originated and which has remained under lockdown since Jan. 23.

Hubei province has begun to relax, albeit very timidly, some of the strict controls that have kept nearly 60 million people isolated for more than a month and a half.

The city of Huanggang, close to Wuhan and home to almost 8 million inhabitants – who also suffered severely because of the coronavirus – announced today that its residents may once again be able to walk its streets.

It is thought that the first known case of COVID-19 could have occurred Nov. 17 and not in December as previously thought, according to an investigation published Friday by private Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post.

The newspaper, which claims to have had access to government data, said a 55-year-old from Hubei was the first recorded case of the disease.

Since then, it said between one and five infections had been added daily: on Dec. 15 there were already 27 and on Dec. 20 that rose to 60.

According to the report, Chinese authorities identified at least 266 infected people in 2019, although the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission did not report the first case until Jan. 5 and placed its diagnosis on Dec. 12.

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