Masked ground staff at Hong Kong’s airport. China’s experts say the nation’s battle against the epidemic is nearing an inflection point. Photo: China News Service

Chinese epidemiologists have dropped a morale-boosting hint about when an upturn in the nation’s battle against the Covid-19 outbreak may emerge. 

State media including Xinhua quoted Zhang Boli, President of the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine who also sits on an expert panel advising the central government, as saying that by the end of April, people could expect to remove their masks and breathe freely and fearlessly and even take a bracing, long overdue outing to gulp in scents, but not virus, in the air of a spring day. 

Yet those in the central megacity of Wuhan, the epicenter of the still unfolding pneumonic epidemic, and in the rest of Hubei province, may still need to endure several more months of lockdowns and quarantines in the protracted war on the virus, before they can ultimately heave a sigh of relief. 

Zhang’s optimism is shared by some other authoritative infectious disease specialists including Zhong Nanshan, a judgment holding out hope that defies the perception of heightened risks.

Some observers are perturbed about a new spate of outbreaks that may hit major urban centers across the nation when roads are once again clogged and malls are teeming with spenders.

Hundreds of millions were to return to work after a Lunar New Year break, but that has stretched into months-long house confinement as people were mandated to stay at home since late January amid the rampaging coronavirus contagion.

A temperature screening and disinfection station inside Ningbo’s main train station in eastern China.
A metro train in Ningbo has few passengers as people choose to stay at home. Photos: Asia Times

Official data show Hubei added another 196 confirmed cases to its total tally to 67,103 as of Monday afternoon, while all other provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions throughout China have only reported seven new infections, sustaining an encouraging tendency of a single-digit increase in the overall count of those that have contracted the acute respiratory disease, as the pandemic appears to be lulling in places outside Hubei. 

The National Health Commission also said that 44,518 patients had been cured and discharged, representing a recovery rate of more than 50%, although the treatment and test parameters are said to vary from one province to another. 

A protective film fences off the cabbie’s seat in a taxi in Guangzhou, and a QR code helps passengers pay the fare electronically with their phones to avoid having any contact with the driver to eliminate risks of cross infection.
A notice at a Starbucks coffee shop in Guangzhou urges customers to line up at safe distances as they place their orders.
After buying their coffee, customers are seated away from each other and are asked to leave their phone numbers for authorities to contact them in the event of an infection. Photos: Asia Times

Meanwhile, major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are deploying additional manpower to cordon off arrival halls at their respective airports for temperature screenings and disinfection of passengers flying in from overseas. These measures follow discoveries of imported cases from virus-stricken nations from South Korea to Singapore and Italy to Iran.

Members of local Chinese diasporas and some nationals of these countries have been fleeing amid the health scare and many are flocking to China. 

A host of ministries responsible for foreign affairs, immigration, quarantine and border control and protection are scrambling to fend off a possible “back flow” of the virus. These ministries have also prodded people to postpone or cancel their trips abroad to avoid being stranded or taken ill in a foreign country as the highly contagious pathogen emanating from China has long spilled over borders, with the situation in some countries spiraling out of control. 

China has stopped issuing individual visit visas for mainlanders to enter its two special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau since the end of January, and there are calls to bar anyone from South Korea from entering, where 476 new cases have been reported on Monday, a 25% jump over a day earlier to make a total of 4,212. 

An official in charge of consular protection at the foreign ministry also said Beijing would not rule out pulling its nationals out of some countries with worsening outbreaks. 

Read more: Chinese cities on alert after Korean outbreak

Cadres, experts in quandary over virus and economy

Radical measures rolled out as Chinese cities battle virus

Gaffes and blame: cadres in virus-stricken Hubei

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