The authorities in China’s Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus, on Friday asked its residents to stay at home and avoid non-essential outings amid fears of a possible rebound of the disease due to the steady rise in the asymptomatic cases, days after the nine-week lockdown was relaxed in the city.
Risk level reduced
Asymptomatic coronavirus cases are those who test positive for the virus but do not show any symptom and have the potential to cause sporadic clusters of infections. China on March 25 downgraded the risk level of the coronavirus in its epicentre Wuhan from high to medium and resumed bus services within the city for the first time since the three-month lockdown. Currently, there are 1,075 asymptomatic patients under medical observation in the Chinese mainland. Though no new locally transmitted coronavirus cases were reported in Hubei and its capital Wuhan on Thursday, local health officials said 51 asymptomatic COVID-19 cases were detected, bringing the total to 742, all of whom have been put under medical observation. According to official media reports, China also plans to test the over 11 million population of Wuhan as asymptomatic cases are being reported for the first time by Chinese officials since Wednesday, amidst international criticism casting doubts over China’s officials figures of the coronavirus.
Celebration for the victory
The celebrations have begun in cities across China as they mark the end of the country’s battle with coronavirus. Sinocare, a biotech company in Changsha last week gathered employees in a park, each standing a meter apart, and urged them to remove their face masks.“The war against this epidemic has reached a new stage. We must return to normal … Take off your masks. In Wuhan, as the city marked its first full week with no new infections, shopping malls reopened and residents trickled out from their homes. On Tuesday, Ma Xiaowei, director of the National Health Commission, said that the country had contained the virus, with Wuhan reaching a milestone of 63,000 Covid-19 patients discharged. But the road to recovery has not been without bumps. Fugong fuchan (“resuming work, resuming production”), the government mantra of the past few weeks, has proceeded in fits and starts. Officials have struggled to restart the economy after an unprecedented nationwide shutdown, while also trying to prevent another outbreak. Cinemas, briefly reopened with plans to lure customers back with Harry Potter in 3D, were ordered to shut again. In Shanghai, indoor tourist attractions have again been suspended. The city of Jinzhou, in Liaoning province, said on Monday that clubs, karaoke bars, internet cafes and any cultural venue “where people gather” could not reopen. Businesses that had opened their doors again were told to suspend operations immediately.
China has driven coronavirus transmission down to nearly zero (although there’s some question among international academics about China’s case reporting and whether some cases are being overlooked, it’s generally agreed that they’ve suppressed transmission to a very low level). But some undetected cases are still probably floating around, and the virus can always be brought back in from abroad.
New major outbreak
To make sure that another major outbreak doesn’t occur, China is experimenting to see how much it can ease off the highly restrictive social distancing while keeping its testing and quarantine apparatus up and running. “We’re going to see within a month or two whether it’s possible to get back to relatively normal social mixing and just be able to rely on test testing, tracking, isolating, quarantine” to keep the virus at an extremely low level in China, he says. While China is now trying to figure out how to relax social distancing without allowing the virus to come roaring back, this is also a question that European countries and the U.S. hope to address in the coming weeks. But the U.S. may have a harder time doing this than China. Cowling says one problem facing the U.S. is that there are many different outbreaks that are being managed primarily at the state level and might peak at different times.
“It’s possible that New York could be coming out of lock down, having got the numbers to a low level. But there are other cities where they’re having a lot more infections and it is going to be very difficult to have travel restrictions,” Cowling says. “And the worst case scenario is that infections are kind of bouncing around the U.S. And so, the lockdown is relaxed and then infections come back and then you have to lockdown again and nobody wants that to happen. So it really is a urgent question to figure out what’s the best way to suppress transmission across the whole of the U.S.”