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Economy

Authorities ease clampdown in virus-hit Wuhan

Factories allowed to reopen while travel curbs in the region are eased

A biker passes by a wall of paintings of old shops in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province, where travel restrictions have been eased.   © AP

GUANGZHOU -- A select number of companies in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak, and the surrounding region were given permission on Wednesday to restart operations for the first time since the Lunar New Year holiday in late January.

The government of Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital, said companies that "have a significant impact on national or global supply chains" will be given permission to reopen if they have implemented sufficient infection control measures. Enterprises outside Wuhan will also be allowed to resume business, though certain industries will be restricted based on local infection risk levels.

Travel within the province has also been eased. Movement between cities had been severely restricted, but now will be relaxed for medium- and low-risk regions for people confirmed to be healthy. But travel to and from Wuhan and other areas that are deemed high risk will still be under restraints. Travel between provinces will be subject to "strict monitoring."

The move is good news for the auto industry, for which Wuhan is a major hub. State-owned Dongfeng Motor Group resumed production Wednesday at facilities in the city. Japan's Honda Motor, which operates three plants in Wuhan through a joint venture with Dongfeng, restarted some operations the same day.

"Plants reopened in one specific area, and parts makers were allowed to restart factories in that area," said an executive at a Honda-affiliated auto parts manufacturer.

Businesses in other industries are also racing to bring facilities online that have sat idle for weeks. Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which manufactures equipment for ships in Wuhan, looks to resume production March 18. Daikin Industries aims to restart production of industrial air conditioning equipment within the next several days.

Because Wuhan still has measures in place to combat the outbreak, including restrictions on public transit, a return to business as usual likely remains some way off.

China likely hopes to use the resumption of economic activity at the heart of the COVID-19 outbreak to tout its success in containing the disease. China's National Health Commission reported just 13 new coronavirus cases in Hubei Province on Tuesday -- a dramatic decline from early February, when days with 2,000 new cases were common.

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