BEIJING (Reuters) - China reported fewer new coronavirus cases on Thursday that involved travellers arriving from abroad, but said locally transmitted infections rose, with the capital Beijing seeing new local cases for the first time in more than three weeks.
To prevent a rebound of the epidemic as business activity resumes, an increasing number of Chinese provinces have begun offering coronavirus testing to the public. At the same time, local authorities are offering coupons to residents in hopes they will spend money to revive an economy ravaged by the outbreak.
On Friday, China is expected to report that its economy shrank by 6.5% in the first quarter, in what would be the first contraction since at least 1992, when it first started issuing quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) data.
New imported cases dropped to 34 on Wednesday from 36 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said, down for the third straight day, amid stringent border checks, reduced international flights, and a ban on entry by foreigners.
But the number of locally transmitted cases rose to 12 from 10 a day earlier, with Beijing seeing three new local cases, the first since March 23.
The other new local cases on Wednesday were in the provinces of Heilongjiang and Guangdong, both of which have been battling an influx of infected travellers, mostly Chinese nationals returning from abroad.
Overall, mainland China reported 46 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, the same as a day earlier, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 82,341.
On Thursday, state television reported that President Xi Jinping had approved the withdrawal of 4,000 army medical personnel who had been sent to the central province of Hubei, where the outbreak originated, in another milestone as the province and its capital city Wuhan return towards normal.
Earlier this month, Wuhan lifted a lockdown that had paralysed the city of 11 million for more than two months in a drastic effort to contain the virus.
The northwestern province of Shanxi said on Thursday it would provide nucleic acid testing to the public “in a bid to spot, quarantine, and treat coronavirus patients as early as possible”.
The testing will be partly subsidised and provided to those who are required to undergo a test as well as residents who want one, provincial authorities said.
In the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, which is battling an influx of cases from Chinese people crossing the border from Russia, the city of Harbin also began offering virus tests this week to residents who want them, local media said.
Meanwhile, more cities are rolling out measures to stimulate consumption. The eastern city of Wenzhou said it would dole out 1.8 billion yuan of shopping coupons. Wuhan will make similar moves soon, its commerce bureau said on its website on Thursday.
Heilongjiang saw 16 new imported cases, all among Chinese nationals who came from Russia. The neighbouring Chinese region of Inner Mongolia also saw imported cases from Russia.
Guangdong saw five new cases connected to travellers from overseas.
The number of new asymptomatic cases increased to 64 from 57 a day earlier.
China does not include patients with no clinical symptoms such as a cough or a fever in its tally of confirmed cases. Some of the new confirmed cases had been counted as asymptomatic previously.
Reporting by Ryan Woo, Lusha Zhang, Gabriel Crossley, Samuel Shen, Tony Munroe and Colin Qian; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Tom Hogue, Stephen Coates, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Gareth Jones