- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Residents of Hubei province, the epicenter of China’s coronavirus outbreak, resumed a more normal daily life routine as factories and other businesses reopened Wednesday, possibly offering encouragement to the U.S. and other affected nations.

Health experts around the world are carefully watching the pandemic as it plays out in China, where the virus originated, for clues to how the new COVID-19 coronavirus strain works its way through a target population. At first overwhelmed by new cases and outbreaks, Chinese officials are reporting a sharply declining number of new cases in recent days.

Food processors, manufacturers and other businesses essential for providing daily necessities in Wuhan, the city in the province where the coronavirus emerged in December, can reopen, the Hubei provincial government announced. Construction also has gradually resumed on housing and public infrastructure projects in China as the country tries to bring employees back to work while still containing the epidemic.

Even though embarrassing information is tightly controlled by the Beijing government, experts say there are some glimmers of hope.

Dr. Gustavo Ferrer, a lung specialist at Aventura Hospital in Florida, said on Wednesday it’s too soon to say if China is over the worst of its coronavirus outbreak.

“We have reports from the CDC and from the World Health Organization that there was in the last 48 hours a little spike in the number of cases in China of coronavirus,” he said, but “the Chinese government is actually stating that these cases are coming from the outside.”

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“These are not home-based new cases of coronavirus, but nonetheless we just need one of those outside cases to come and continue to replicate the same phenomenon,” he added.

Dr. Ferrer said China took really strong measures to control and quarantine populations, an effort that probably contributed to the apparent decline in the number of cases.

President Xi Jinping visited Wuhan on Tuesday when the last of the makeshift quarantine hospitals in the city closed, signaling confidence that China has a grip on the coronavirus, the state-controlled China Daily reported. For a few days, the number of new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, seemed to taper off and remain relatively steady, indicating the respiratory illness might have reached its peak in the country.

Latest figures from China’s National Health Commission showed 24 new coronavirus cases nationwide, and 22 more deaths as of Tuesday. All the latest deaths occurred in Wuhan, according to the Reuters news agency

Wuhan “may have zero new cases by the end of March if we work harder and if nothing sudden comes up,” Li Lanjuan, director of China’s State Key Laboratory for Diagnosis and Treatment of Infectious Diseases, told reporters Wednesday.

The reopening of factories and some businesses in China came as the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic on Wednesday. In the past two weeks, countries outside of China have reported a 13-fold increase in cases, according to WHO.

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Whether the U.S. and Western nations can copy some of Beijing’s draconian measures is another question.

“It’s impossible to close cities in perpetuity,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, health policy scholar at the Baylor College of Medicine. “Exactly when to decide to resume the life of a city following a terrible epidemic is always a challenging decision, especially with a new virus agent. But even without a clear road map, it’s important to make such decisions on the basis of data from continued surveillance and testing,”

Dr. Ferrer said he thinks it is encouraging that China appears to have reached its peak in coronavirus infections, but wants to see a leveling off in cases in other hard-hit countries, including Italy and South Korea.

He added the U.S. will see more cases as officials continue to do more testing, but said he thinks cases, as in China, will plateau in the next couple of weeks.

“We should be encouraged, but we should remain vigilant,” Dr. Ferrer said. “Being aware is extremely important because when things are going down we tend to lower our guards, and this is when we are not prepared for any of this.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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