China is trying to relax its severe coronavirus lockdown, but a series of forced re-closures shows how hard it is to get back to normal

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A Chinese woman wears a full face protective mask as she shops at an outdoor food market on April 3, 2020 in Beijing, China.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

  • China has been trying to gradually roll back its severe coronavirus lockdown in recent weeks.
  • Shops, bars, cinemas, and tourists sites were reopened after no new cases were reported in many provinces.
  • But authorities have repeatedly reversed their decisions and re-closed businesses, tourist attractions, and entire regions.
  • China is further into its coronavirus response than any other nation — and seems to be demonstrating that getting out of lockdown is a difficult and uneven process.
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In the last two weeks, authorities in China have tentatively rolled back parts of a lockdown that curtailed the movements and activities of close to a billion people from as early as January 23.

At the peak of China's coronavirus outbreak in mid-February, some 780 million people — almost half of China — were under a form of travel restriction.

These measures are now easing — watched by the rest of the world — but the progress of a return to normality has been uneven, fraught with anxiety and sudden reversals.

Tourist attractions, public transport links, cinemas, restaurants, and shops across the country were cautiously reopened. But shortly after, many jurisdictions rushed to reimpose the lockdowns, fearing a second wave of infections.

In Jinzhou, Liaoning province, some businesses recently reopened their doors, according to the Guardian, but the city on Monday ordered clubs, karaoke bars and cafes to close.


People in Beijing pay tribute to China's coronavirus victims during a national moment of silence on April 4, 2020.

Thomas Peter/Reuters

On Wednesday, the 640,000 residents of Jia county, which neighbor the former epicenter of Hubei province, were placed back under a lockdown after a second wave of coronavirus cases was discovered.

Housing estates were sealed off, traffic was regulated, and mandatory temperature checks were brought back, according to Reuters.

On March 25, all residents of Hubei province, excepting those in Wuhan, were told they were free to leave after travel restrictions ended. But police from Jiangxi province, which has a 150-mile border with Hubei, tried to stop people from crossing over, and brawled with Hubei police over the restrictions.

After a 60-day lockdown of Xianning city ended on March 26, those leaving were told they needed to be tested for the virus and approved for travel. However, they were unable to, Reuters reported, as the test wasn't available in the city's largest hospital. 


A recently reopened noodle shop in Wuhan seen on March 31, 2020.

Associated Press

In the week leading up to March 23, as many as 600 cinemas reopened all across China, but on March 27 a decree from China's Film Bureau forced them all to close again.

Sichuan province, in southwest China, also told entertainment businesses to shutter again, including karaoke bars. 

After more than 60 days in lockdown, March 28, residents of Wuhan were allowed to leave the house freely so long as they didn't leave the city.

But five days later, on April 2, they were told by a Communist Party official that they in fact should not leave home without reason, according to the Guardian.

Restrictions on travel into and out of the Wuhan are set to lift on April 8.


A passenger shows a green QR code on his phone proving his health status to security upon arrival at Wenzhou railway station in Wenzhou on February 28, 2020.

Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

The wave of closures suggests that China is well aware that a new outbreak of the coronavirus could emerge as a result of easing their lockdowns too soon.

China, South Korea, and Taiwan have all observed cases of the coronavirus brought back by people coming from abroad.

China identified 41 new cases on March 21 as students returned from the US and Europe. That day was the third in a row that had seen no locally transmitted cases, according to official data.

China banned foreigners from travelling to the country from March 28.

Some epidemiologists believe that lockdowns merely delay the outbreak's peak by a few months.

"What happened in Wuhan and now what's happened in north Italy is not the peak of an epidemic. That's about a month away from the peak," Dr. Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong who researches influenza transmission and control measures, told Business Insider.

"They are still facing now, most likely, a second wave in one to two months' time. So are they going to shut down again?"

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