China to ease lock­down on re­gion where cri­sis be­gan

San Francisco Chronicle - - CORONAVIRU­S PANDEMIC - By Vi­vian Wang and Sui­Lee Wee Vi­vian Wang and Sui­Lee Wee are New York Times writ­ers.

HONG KONG — The Chi­nese prov­ince of Hubei, where the coro­n­avirus pan­demic be­gan, will on Wed­nes­day be­gin al­low­ing most of its 60 mil­lion res­i­dents to leave, end­ing nearly two months of lock­down and send­ing a strong sig­nal of the govern­ment’s con­fi­dence that its tough mea­sures have worked to con­trol the out­break.

Wuhan, the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal and the city hard­est hit by the virus, will re­main sealed off un­til April 8, though pub­lic trans­porta­tion there will start run­ning again, the govern­ment said.

The eas­ing of the lock­down is the lat­est sign that China ap­pears to have suc­cess­fully tamed the epi­demic by plac­ing sweep­ing re­stric­tions on hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple, while gov­ern­ments else­where floun­der. Across Europe and the United States, new cases con­tinue to surge, med­i­cal sup­plies are run­ning low and many hos­pi­tals are over­whelmed. Govern­ment of­fi­cials world­wide are or­der­ing their cit­i­zens to stay at home — much as China did to Hubei at the start of the out­break.

The rul­ing Communist Party drew heavy crit­i­cism at first for its ap­proach, which many both do­mes­ti­cally and abroad saw as heavy­handed, even draconian. But in re­cent weeks, the party has ag­gres­sively pro­moted its strat­egy as a model for other coun­tries.

The loos­en­ing also re­flects the ur­gency with which the party wants to restart the econ­omy, which recorded double­digit drops in cer­tain sec­tors in the first quar­ter this year — a po­ten­tially ma­jor threat to the govern­ment’s le­git­i­macy. Con­sis­tent eco­nomic growth is the back­bone of the party’s hold on power: It prom­ises its cit­i­zens pros­per­ity and sta­bil­ity in ex­change for virtually un­chal­lenged con­trol.

And the lift­ing of Hubei’s re­stric­tions still do not mean free travel within China. Many prov­inces and cities have made it eas­ier for res­i­dents to move around, but have es­sen­tially shut them­selves off to trav­el­ers from else­where.

“We need to worry about a sec­ond wave of the out­break once re­stric­tions are lim­ited,” said Ma­lik Peiris, chief of virol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

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