Chinese officials say they have “seen the dawn” of an end to the coronavirus epidemic, after the country reported zero new cases of local infection for the first time since the outbreak began.
Figures for Wednesday showed there were no new cases at all in Wuhan or the wider Hubei province, where the virus now known as Covid-19 is believed to have first transmitted among humans.
Authorities warned the risk was still not over, though, as 34 cases – all imported from abroad – were reported in other provinces. They included 21 in Beijing and nine in the southern manufacturing hub of Guangdong.
There were also eight new deaths on Wednesday, according to the National Health Commission. bringing the country to a total of 80,928 cases and 3,245 deaths.
Nonetheless, the lack of new local transmissions in Hubei was hailed as a major landmark in the global fight to contain the disease.
“Today we have seen the dawn after so many days of hard effort,” said Jiao Yahui, a senior inspector at the National Health Commission.
Li Yang, an official from Hubei’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference that the threat of Covid-19 had not been eliminated and infection risk still persists, at both community and clinic levels.
Wuhan has been under a strict lockdown since January, and remains cut off with only those with special permission allowed to travel in or out.
Officials are moving to loosen travel restrictions, but only inside the surrounding province of Hubei where most checkpoints will be taken down.
The lockdown in Wuhan will be lifted only if no additional cases are reported for two consecutive weeks, something which could happen as early as next month, Li Lanjuan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told local media.
But attention in China and across Asia is increasingly turning from stopping local spread to preventing new cases from arriving abroad. China is even assisting governments in Europe – sending medical supplies to France, for example, returning a favour done by Paris a few weeks ago.
Alarmed by the 21 new cases arriving in Beijing – a record number – the Chinese aviation authority said it had appointed 12 airport companies to assist in diverting international arrivals away from the capital.
A state media report on the announcement did not elaborate which cities the traffic would be diverted to, but the measure is designed to help with effective screening of passengers and isolation of infected travellers.