Millions will be able to move around the region after weeks of stringent measures to stem the spread of Covid-19.
Tens of millions of Chinese residents living near the centre of the coronavirus outbreak will be able to resume travel from Wednesday, after authorities announced restrictions would be lifted in Hubei province, except in the city of Wuhan.
The move comes as China claims to have largely brought their outbreak under control, reporting only imported cases of the virus and few or no new domestic cases in recent days. However the claims have been questioned by residents and analysts, who note reported refusals to test for the virus by some hospitals, and allegations of manipulated numbers, and rumours of unreported cases. .
On Tuesday the Hubei provincial government said it would lift the control order on residents of the region, not including the city of Wuhan, after midnight, and “outbound traffic will be restored in an orderly manner”. The change will allow people to travel to other places within and outside Hubei province.
The control orders on outbound traffic in Wuhan, home to 11m people and the wet market where the virus is believed to have originated, will lift on 8 April.
All residents will still need the “Green Code” in order to travel. The code is a health classification designated by a controversial monitoring system using the AliPay app.
The lifting of travel orders follows an easing of lockdown restrictions in the region in recent days. On Monday, small groups of Wuhan residents were allowed to leave their residential compounds, going to shops and walking along the streets, for the first time in weeks. On the weekend, more than 1,000 workers from elsewhere in the province arrived on a train back to the city for work.
Wuhan and some neighbouring cities were put under strict lockdown on 23 January, weeks after the emergence of Covid-19, information about which was suppressed by the Chinese government and officials.
It was the largest lockdown in human history, and drew scepticism and praise from health bodies. Now, as other countries across the world deal with their own massive outbreaks, many governments have announced lockdowns of their own. On Tuesday, around one fifth of the world’s population was under some kind of order to stay inside their home.
Few appear as aggressive as China’s, which saw officials go door-to-door for health checks, forcing sick people into isolation, including the family of a disabled boy who was reportedly left alone and died.
With additional reporting by Pei Lin Wu.