WUHAN, China (Reuters) - China ramped up efforts on Monday to heal the world’s second-biggest economy as health authorities reported a further drop in new coronavirus cases, although the country remains wary of carriers of the disease coming from abroad and infected people who exhibit no symptoms.
The city of Wuhan, the source of the pandemic, reported no new cases for a sixth day, as businesses reopened and residents set about reclaiming a more normal life after a lockdown of almost two months.
Smartly turned out staff waited in masks and gloves to greet customers at entrances to the newly reopened Wuhan International Plaza, home to boutiques of luxury brands such as Cartier and Louis Vuitton.
“The Wuhan International Plaza is very representative (of the city),” said Zhang Yu, 29. “So its reopening really makes me feel this city is coming back to life.”
Electric carmaker Tesla Inc has also reopened a showroom in Wuhan.
Sunday’s tally of 31 new cases in mainland China - comprising one locally transmitted infection and 30 imported cases - was down from 45 the previous day, the National Health Commission said.
As infections fall, policymakers are scrambling to revitalise an economy nearly paralysed by months of curbs aimed at controlling the spread of the flu-like disease.
On Monday, the central bank unexpectedly cut the interest rate on reverse repurchase agreements by 20 basis points, the largest in nearly five years.
The government is pushing businesses and factories to reopen, as it rolls out fiscal and monetary stimulus to spur recovery from what is feared to be an outright economic contraction in the quarter to March.
China’s exports and imports could worsen as the pandemic spreads, depressing demand both at home and abroad, Xin Guobin, the vice minister of industry and information technology, said on Monday.
Worried about a second wave triggered by returning Chinese, many of them students, China cut international flights massively from Sunday for an indefinite period, after it began denying entry to almost all foreigners a day earlier.
Average daily arrivals at airports this week are expected to be about 4,000, down from 25,000 last week, an official of the Civil Aviation Administration of China said on Monday.
The return to work has also prompted concern about potential domestic infections as travel curbs are rolled back, especially regarding carriers who exhibit no, or very mild, symptoms of the highly contagious virus.
Hubei authorities say 4.6 million people in the province returned to work by Saturday, with 2.8 million of them heading for other parts of China.
Most of the departing migrant workers went to the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, and northeast China.
Northwestern Gansu province reported a new case of a traveller from the central province of Hubei, who drove back with a virus-free health code.
Authorities in Zhejiang province said asymptomatic patients with pneumonia would face the same quarantine conditions as confirmed cases, including 14 days in isolation centres.
Premier Li Keqiang said on Monday that China will strengthen screening, quarantine and treatment of cases including people who were in close contact with confirmed or asymptomatic coronavirus patients.
China is likely to release data on asymptomatic patients, state-controlled financial magazine Yicai reported, citing an unnamed expert close to policy-making. No time frame was given, however.
Many asymptomatic people are infected patients undergoing an incubation period, and in some areas, up to 70% of such asymptomatic carriers will eventually become confirmed cases, Yicai quoted the expert as saying.
At Wuhan International Plaza, shoppers had to queue 1-1/2 metres (5 ft) apart for temperature checks while flashing “green” mobile telephone codes attesting to a clean bill of health.
“Being able to be healthy and leave the house, and meet other colleagues who are also healthy is a very happy thing,” said Wang Xueman, a cosmetics sales representative.
Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: here
Reporting by Brenda Goh, Thomas Suen, Se Young Lee, Roxanne Liu, Lusha Zhang, Huizhong Wu, Liangping Gao, Yilei Sun, Gabriel Crossley, Judy Hua, Colin Qian and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez and Hugh Lawson