China to lift lockdown in most of virus-hit Hubei province

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Xinhua

In this March 23, 2020 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, workers disinfect a subway train in preparation for the restoration of public transport in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province. China's health ministry says Wuhan has now gone several consecutive days without a new infection, showing the effectiveness of draconian travel restrictions that are slowly being relaxed around the country. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP)

BEIJING – Chinese authorities said Tuesday they will end a two-month lockdown of most of coronavirus-hit Hubei province at midnight, as domestic cases of what has become a global pandemic subside.

People with a clean bill of health will be allowed to leave, the provincial government said, easing restrictions on movement that were unprecedented in scale. The city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in December, is to remain locked down until April 8.

China barred people from leaving or entering Wuhan beginning Jan. 23 in a surprise middle-of-the-night announcement and expanded that to most of the province in succeeding days. Trains and flights were canceled and checkpoints set up on roads into the central province.

The drastic steps came as the coronavirus began spreading to the rest of China and overseas during the Lunar New Year holiday, when millions of Chinese travel.

The virus raged for weeks in Wuhan, the provincial capital, and surrounding cities. Hospitals overflowed, and temporary ones were hastily set up to try to isolate the growing number of infected patients. More than 2,500 people have died in Wuhan out of 3,270 nationwide.

The outbreak has since been brought under control, and Hubei has seen almost no new infections for more than a week.

The move to end the lockdown showed the authorities' apparent faith in the success of the drastic measures as they try to kick start the world's second-largest economy and put money in the pockets of workers, many of whom have gone weeks without pay. It remained unclear, however, which cities and provinces, including Beijing, the capital, would allow people from Hubei to enter their jurisdictions.

About 120,000 migrant workers, including many who had made the traditional trip home to Hubei for Lunar New Year, have already been allowed to leave in recent days on special buses and trains, according to Chinese media reports. The reports said manufacturing centers such as Guangdong and Zhejiang province are open to people from Hubei,