Wuhan scraps easing of quarantine hours after announcing it

In this picture taken on January 31, 2020, a man wearing a protective mask as a preventative measure following a virus outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Photo AFP
  • AFP
  • February 24, 2020 8:14 AM

Beijing, China | Authorities in Wuhan on Monday reversed a decision that would have allowed some people to leave the quarantined city at the centre of China's deadly virus epidemic, and reprimanded officials who had made the announcement.

The city government said in a statement that the previous announcement had been made by a traffic prevention and control group "without the consent" of the local leadership.

"The announcement is declared invalid. In this regard, we have seriously dealt with the relevant personnel," the city said on its official account on Twitter-like Weibo.

"Wuhan resolutely implements the spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping's important instructions on 'preventing leaks (of the virus)' ... strictly manages the passages leaving from Wuhan, strictly controls personnel, and strictly prevents the epidemic from going out," it said.

Wuhan's government deleted the previous post that had announced the easing of restrictions barely three hours earlier.

Officials in Wuhan were already under fire for their handling of the epidemic -- accused of initially covering up the first outbreaks, botching the response and causing confusion by changing criteria to count the number of cases.

The top Communist Party officials in Hubei province and its capital Wuhan were sacked earlier this month, along with the region's top health officials.

The city of 11 million has been under lockdown since January 23 after authorities shut down transport links into and out of the city in an effort to contain the new coronavirus outbreak.

The now-scrapped decision would have allowed non-residents to leave if they show no symptoms of the new coronavirus and have never had contact with patients, the deleted statement said.

People with special reasons to leave the city, including those who needed treatment for other medical conditions and those doing epidemic prevention work, would also have been allowed to exit.

The statement had said that departures would be staggered and people would have had to apply for permission from local authorities before leaving.

Once travellers reached their destinations outside of Wuhan, they would have had to report themselves to local authorities and monitor their health for 14 days.

The announcement would have also allowed people to enter the city for epidemic prevention or other production-related reasons or if they were Wuhan residents who had previously been unable to return home.

Hundreds of foreign nationals have been airlifted from Wuhan back to their countries by several governments including the United States, France and Britain.

The COVID-19 disease has killed nearly 2,600 people and infected some 77,000 in China.

The epidemic's spread has slowed down in China outside of Hubei province, while multiple other provinces have reported zero new infections for several days in a row.

All but 11 of China's 409 new cases Monday were reported in Hubei.

Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated late last year, continues to account for the majority of new cases and deaths in the country.

Wuhan on Monday reported 348 new virus cases, while five cities and the Shennongjia Forestry District in Hubei reported no new cases. 

Experts from the World Health Organization visited Wuhan over the weekend.

They also met with Ma Xiaowei, the director of China's national health commission, and top officials at the centre for disease control for Hubei.

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