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China May Have Turned The Corner In Coronavirus Pandemic

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan today. That is a big deal. That is the first time that's ever happened since the outbreak started there and then went global.

With us is NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So zero new cases - should we be hopeful that this is now contained in China?

FENG: Yes, but I wouldn't get too excited just yet. Health experts do say that we see these dropping numbers and zero cases in Wuhan today, which is great news, almost entirely due to the fact that these strict quarantine measures China put in place almost two months ago are working. But they've only been able to maintain those low case numbers mostly because strict social distancing rules and quarantines across cities are still in place. An entire province, Hubei, where Wuhan is, is still locked down. So people can't leave there.

And just because Wuhan had no cases today does not mean there aren't new cases being reported elsewhere. Today there were 34 new cases. All of them had come from travelers coming into China. So they had been infected elsewhere and come to China. And that's now the real concern China has, that we'll have more imported cases coming into China.

MARTIN: Right. I mean, that's harrowing to think that this thing is circular, that China would get it under control and then other people who've been affected in other parts of the world would come back in. I mean, China, this week, said it was going to put all those who are coming into the country from abroad into a centralized quarantine. Can you explain that?

FENG: Right. This is part of this new wave of restrictions aimed at preventing these so-called imported cases. So anyone now entering China, regardless of what your passport is, will be taken straight off the plane by health care workers in hazmat suits. You'll be screened, and then you'll be bussed straight from the airport to usually hotels for 14 days of quarantine, which you pay yourself. If you flying into Beijing today, though, you might be unlucky and you could get sent to a converted SARS treatment center that they're now retooling to hold travelers.

And actually, Beijing is just so overwhelmed right now with screening that they're diverting a lot of flights to smaller airports. So it's possible that you could get quarantine very far from your actual destination. And what's kind of interesting is the tables have turned. It's a reversal of - earlier we saw countries putting up restrictions on Chinese travelers coming from China. Now people coming into China as cases drop are facing greater restrictions in China.

MARTIN: I mean, this is a big question. But is there any indication as to how long we might see these lockdowns in China?

FENG: What I've been hearing is until at least late April. Part of the reason behind that is China will not declare an outbreak is over until 14 days after the last new case has been reported, and we keep seeing new imported cases being reported. Also, economic activity has not completely resumed. Only about 80% of business activity has started, and strict social distancing measures are still in place. If economic activity reaches 100% and we still see no new cases, then I think we can say the outbreak is over in China.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Emily Feng reporting from Beijing on an important day and the fact that there have been no new cases of coronavirus detected in the prov (ph) - in the city of Wuhan.

Emily, thank you.

FENG: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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