China planner says regions at low risk for virus must resume activity

A worker sits at a production line at a microelectronics factory in Nantong in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province. (AP pic)

BEIJING: Chinese regions deemed at low risk from the coronavirus outbreak should fully resume normal activities and end transport bans, an official at the state planning agency said on Tuesday.

China needed to take a more nuanced approach to controlling the epidemic to ensure the economic impact is minimised, Ou Xiaoli of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) told a news briefing.

“Low-risk areas … are to restore order in production and life, cancel transport restrictions and help enterprises solve employment, raw material, funding, equipment and other difficulties,” he said.

“The current epidemic situation is not the same everywhere,” he said, adding that if control measures were not tailored to circumstances in different places, it could hurt economic recovery.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the epidemic in China peaked between Jan 23 and Feb 2 and has been declining since.

China on Tuesday reported a rise in new cases in Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak. But excluding those, China had just nine new infections on Monday, the lowest number since Jan 20.

Ou said counties apart from Beijing and Hubei would be divided into “low-risk”, “medium-risk” and “high-risk” and draw up their production recovery plans accordingly.

Low-risk areas should “completely restore work and life procedures”, end all restrictions on transportation and help enterprises resolve funding and raw material problems, he said.

China’s leaders have been urging regions outside the major infection zone of Hubei to do their utmost to restore the economy, and many have in recent days downgraded their emergency response measures after reporting no new cases.

President Xi Jinping said on Sunday the economy would take a big hit and low-risk provinces should focus on going back to work and restoring production. But high-risk areas should continue to focus on controlling the epidemic, he said.

Hubei backtracked on Monday after saying it would relax restrictions and allow healthy people to leave the province. It said the notice had been issued without authorisation and controls would remain in place.

Ou said high-risk areas must maintain “strict controls” and gradually restore economic output only after the epidemic has been effectively curbed.

At the same time, they should ensure that firms in essential sectors continue to function normally, he said.

He Qinghua of the National Health Commission told the briefing entry-exit controls at residential compounds and tourist areas should remain in place in high-risk zones, and public gatherings still need to be restricted.