Coronavirus: Zhejiang province orders relaxation of excessive controls to allow life to return to normal

Karen Yeung

Local authorities in eastern Zhejiang province have been ordered not to overreact to the outbreak of coronavirus, with the provincial government urging its cities and counties to “balance the relationship between controlling the coronavirus and resuming production”.

The coastal province of 57 million residents, which is a key export and manufacturing base, was the first province to request that lower levels of government avoid excessive disruptions to daily life as well as unnecessary delays to economic activities to contain the outbreak in late January.

“Some places have, without proper reasons, spontaneously escalated control measures amid preventing the novel coronavirus. These measures must be stopped,” said a notice issued by the provincial government.

The Zhejiang government notice showed that authorities were trying to correct some of the early draconian measures of restricting people’s movements and business operations after two weeks of road blocks and the quarantining of communities to contain the coronavirus, which has infected over 40,000 people and killed more than 900.

Zhejiang was the first province to declare an A-level response to the outbreak on January 23, a day ahead of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, and it has been the third hardest hit province behind Hubei and Guangdong with 1,092 confirmed cases as of Sunday.

Local authorities “should not freely impose restrictions on normal movement of residents, or close shops of chain stores and convenience stores that sell daily necessities such as vegetables, cooking oil as well as meat, eggs and dairy products,” the Zhejiang government statement added.

Local governments were also told “not to freely impose restrictions on resumption and operation of courier services and delivery services that matter to the daily lives of the masses.

“Every place should do their utmost to reduce inconveniences to the daily lives of the masses caused by coronavirus control measures”, continued the statement, which asked for local districts to submit their responses to the order before 5pm on Monday.

The notice is also a quick response to a central government meeting last week, which asked for local authorities to pay particular attention to economic activities and normal life while ensuring that containing the outbreak remains an overriding priority.

The number of newly confirmed cases outside Hubei fell last week, suggesting that China’s control of the coronavirus has achieved initial results.

“This is another policy signal urging gradual resumption of production, which called for continued efforts to achieve economic targets,” Robin Xing Ziqiang, China chief economist at Morgan Stanley said. “Most regions have tentatively set February 10 as the back-to-work day, but it's uncertain whether factories could resume production.”

The government of Yiwu city in Zhejiang province said that it had decided to relax certain controls, including allowing one person from each household to go out to buy daily necessities every two days, down from the previous requirement of every four days.

The city also decided to allow traffic to resume within neighbouring areas, while also removing road blocks between its towns and villages.

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