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Wuhan eases coronavirus lockdown as Xi warns of historic ‘crisis’

Communist party expected to reveal whether it will delay annual parliamentary session and South Korea reports new spike in cases

Wuhan, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak in China, has loosened lockdown measures and several provinces have lowered their emergency alert levels, as top officials sought to assure the public that the virus is being contained.

On Monday, China’s National Health Commission reported its highest number of deaths in 11 days, with another 150 dead and 409 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in China to 77,150. All but one of the fatalities and 11 of the new infections were in Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak.

Officials had delayed the daily announcement of the data, a day after a major speech and meeting held by China’s leader, Xi Jinping. Xi warned the Covid-19 crisis was “both a crisis and a big test” for the country, according to Xinhua News agency.

Xi said the virus was a major public health emergency, which had spread quickly, causing the most extensive and difficult-to-contain infection since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

“The outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia will inevitably have a relatively big impact on the economy and society,” Xi said, but added that the impact would be temporary and generally manageable.

Some observers greeted Monday’s figures with scepticism and as part of efforts to project a sense of control over the crisis. Chinese officials have twice changed the criteria for confirmed infections, making the data harder to parse.

An announcement on whether the party will delay next month’s annual parliamentary session as a result of the crisis was expected on Monday. If it is moved, it would be the first time the meeting has been postponed since the Cultural Revolution.

On Monday, Chinese authorities in Wuhan, which has been under a city-wide quarantine since 23 January, said personnel stranded there as well as those who need to leave for treatment and other reasons may leave the city if they are not under observation or quarantine measures, and do not show symptoms of the virus.

At the same time, the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangdong and Shanxi lowered their alert levels , following Gansu and Liaoning over the weekend.

China has allocated 99.5bn yuan ($14.16bn) to curb the outbreak, China’s assistant finance minister Ou Wenhan said in a Beijing press briefing on Monday.

Officials from the World Health Organization visited Wuhan on the weekend for the first time since the outbreak, inspecting two hospitals and meeting officials at the centre for disease control in the province.

There is growing alarm among economists and investors that the impact on global growth is going to be much worse than has previously been estimated
Shane Oliver, chief economist of AMP wealth management in Sydney, said it was likely the Chinese economy will have contracted in the March quarter.

There is no official data about how the Chinese economy has fared in the past three weeks, but trackers of coal consumption and traffic congestion show that the world’s second-biggest economy is still paralysed despite claims that many manufacturing areas are back to work.

“The presumption was that we would see intermediate supply chains quickly reconnected and I think the market’s had to go through a period of questioning that logic” said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at National Australia Bank.

A new spike in cases in South Korea on Monday, which brought the national total to 763, prompted shares to fall in Australia and Hong Kong.

One of the nation’s largest cities, Daegu, has been placed under semi-lockdown, its national assembly session has been cancelled, and the start of school postponed. Other nations have also begun to suspend flights into the country.

The Guardian

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