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China allows some firms to resume work at virus epicentre

The decision came a day after President Xi Jinping paid his first visit to the capital of Hubei province since it was placed under lockdown in late January after the outbreak became a national emergency.

FILE: This photo released on 10 February 2020 by China's Xinhua News Agency shows Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) wearing a protective facemask as a health official (R) checks his body temperature during an inspection of the novel coronavirus pneumonia prevention and control work at the Anhuali Community in Beijing. Picture: AFP.

BEIJING - China announced Wednesday that key companies can resume work in coronavirus-hit Wuhan, in another sign authorities are confident the quarantined city is winning its battle against the epidemic.

The decision came a day after President Xi Jinping paid his first visit to the capital of Hubei province since it was placed under lockdown in late January after the outbreak became a national emergency.

The number of daily new cases has fallen steadily in Wuhan in recent weeks, while all other cities in Hubei have reported zero fresh infections for several days in a row - prompting Xi to declare that the spread of the virus has been "basically curbed" in the province.

The Hubei provincial government said Wednesday that Wuhan businesses involved in providing daily necessities, prevention, and control of the epidemic, or in the operations of public utilities, are among those that can resume work and production immediately.

Wuhan firms that are key to "global industrial chains" may do so as well, after getting approval, the government added.

Other companies are expected to resume production only after 20 March.

Japanese carmarker Honda said on Wednesday that some of its staff have started going to work in its Wuhan plant.

Honda has also begun production of a "small number of vehicles" while checking on its production equipment starting Wednesday.

Similar rules apply to areas outside Wuhan that are considered high-risk, where companies involved in epidemic prevention, public utilities and providing necessities are among those that may resume work.

In areas considered medium or low risk, there is a broader range of companies allowed to return to work.

Passenger flights, trains, cars, ships and city buses in middle and low-risk areas - moving within the province and excluding Wuhan - will "gradually resume operations" as well, although no timeframe was given.

But authorities said they will continue strict control measures on channels out of Wuhan and Hubei.

HEALTH CODES

The announcement came a day after Hubei authorities loosened travel restrictions, allowing people from medium and low-risk areas to move within the province if their health code is labelled "green".

A mobile app will be used to give residents a coloured health code. Green indicates holders have no contact with virus cases, while those with yellow codes are close contacts.

Confirmed or suspected cases will get a red code, and must be quarantined.

Authorities added in the latest statement on Wednesday that outside of Wuhan, a "point-to-point" system will be adopted to send employees back to work, and help those stranded in Hubei to return home.

Schools will continue to be suspended in Hubei.

Wuhan city has been on lockdown since 23 January as China scrambled to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has now killed over 3,100 and infected nearly 81,000 in the country.

Other cities in Hubei soon followed suit, placing a total of around 56 million people under quarantine.

Most of China's cases and deaths came from Hubei, with the majority in Wuhan.

But with cases falling dramatically in the province, residents have been clamouring for restrictions to be eased.