China has recorded its first day with no new cases of coronavirus transmitted locally as medical teams begin pulling out of the province that sparked the outbreak.
The milestone comes a day after Wuhan — the epicentre of the pandemic – recorded no new infections, illustrating how the outbreak has moved toward Europe and the United States.
It’s also been less than a week since the Hubei province first reported no new cases of domestic coronavirus.
China’s national health commission announced that the country had 34 new cases but all of them had recently come from overseas.
The situation has eased to such an extent that some medical teams decided it was time to leave China because the outbreak had been subdued.
The first medical assistance team, the Shaanxi National Emergency Medical Assistance Team, departed Wuhan for Shaanxi Province on Tuesday, with more following suit.
More than 1000 medical and epidemic prevention workers have left Hubei to return home.
An epidemiologist was quoted in the state-run paper China Daily as saying: “If no new case of the coronavirus has been reported for 14 consecutive days in Wuhan following the last reported case, we believe it will be the time when the lockdown can be gradually lifted.”
“After the lockdown is loosened, we still need to strictly carry out routine measures to prevent and control the virus to prevent a possible rebound of the outbreak.”
Italy also hit a milestone, but a rather grim one, becoming the world’s deadliest centre of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Italian Civil Protection Agency announced the death toll from the virus has reached 3405, surpassing China for the largest number of COVID-19 deaths.
Italy’s deaths increased by 427 on Thursday (local time), according to the World Health Organisation, representing a slight improvement on the day before when Italy recorded 475 deaths.
Meanwhile, China has refocused its efforts on preventing the spread of infection by people returning from overseas.
All travellers entering China from overseas – excluding pregnant woman and people aged under 14 and over 70 – will have to be placed under mandatory quarantine for two weeks, authorities recently announced.
The fact the country is down to zero reported new locally transmitted cases highlights its success in controlling the spread of the virus despite persistent allegations that the initial outbreak was mishandled.
That includes the coronavirus death of Dr Li Wenlian who was reprimanded by police for “spreading rumours” when he tried to raise the alarm about the disease.
A new report issued by China’s top anti-corruption agency, the National Supervisory Commission, said a team sent to Wuhan looked into how he found out about the virus, how he had been summoned to a police station and how he was treated when ill.
Their key recommendation, according to the report published by state broadcaster CCTV, was to say that Wuhan authorities needed to find the police who had reprimanded Mr Li and hold them responsible for not following correct procedures.
It said the reprimand of Mr Li by police should be withdrawn.
“Is that it?” said one user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, where news of the report was the top-read topic, with more than 160 million views on Thursday evening.
“It’s like they might as well have not said anything,” said another.
Mr Li’s treatment by police prompted public calls for the Wuhan government to apologise, especially as the city’s authorities were accused of covering up the outbreak in its early days.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million and the capital of central Hubei province, has been locked down since the Lunar New Year festival in mid-January, and remains the only city still designated as “high-risk” in the province and subject to strict travel bans.
Prince contracts coronavirus
Prince Albert of Monaco has tested positive for coronavirus but his health is not a cause for concern, his office says.
“Prince Albert is continuing to work from the office in his private apartments,” it said in a statement.
The office also added that Prince Albert is in constant contact with members of his cabinet, the government and his closest staff.
Queen Elizabeth later issued a statement acknowledging that “individuals and families across the United Kingdom, and around the world, are entering a period of great concern and uncertainty”.
“We are all being advised to change our normal routines and regular patterns of life for the greater good of the communities we live in and, in particular, to protect the most vulnerable within them,” she said.
“Many of us will need to find new ways of staying in touch with each other and making sure that loved ones are safe. I am certain we are up to that challenge. You can be assured that my family and I stand ready to play our part.”
The European Union’s chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, also said on Thursday he had tested positive for coronavirus.
The virus has infected almost 219,000 people across the world and the death toll has exceeded 8900.