By Cheng Leng and Tony Munroe

BEIJING (Reuters) – China reported 46 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, while the city of Wuhan, the pandemic’s ground zero, announced it would be loosening a two-month lockdown by gradually resuming public transportation and allowing healthy people to resume work.

It was the fourth day in a row with an increase in Chinese cases, all but one of which was imported from overseas.

But in a sign of easing lockdown measures, residents living in and outside Wuhan will be allowed to travel into the city to resume work if they have a green health code issued by the government and normal body temperature, state-media CCTV News reported on Sunday. It cited the city’s epidemic prevention and control command center.

Non-local people stranded in Wuhan can also apply to leave the city after taking an RNA test and receiving a health certificate from the government, the channel said.

Despite the relaxed measures for Wuhan and a reduced number of domestically transmitted cases — the one reported on Sunday was the first in four days — China is seeing a steady rise in imported cases, mostly Chinese people returning from overseas. That has led Beijing to further step up measures to intercept cases from abroad as the outbreak worsens globally.

In a sign of how seriously China is taking the threat of imported cases, all international flights due to arrive in Beijing starting Monday will first land at another airport, where passengers will undergo virus screening, government agencies said on Sunday, in an expansion of existing measures.

International flights that were scheduled to arrive in the capital will land instead at one of 12 airports. Passengers who clear screening will then be permitted to reboard the plane, which will then fly to Beijing, the regulator said.

Separately, Shanghai and Guangzhou both announced that all arriving international passengers will undergo an RNA test to screen for coronavirus, expanding a program that previously only applied to those coming from heavily-hit countries.

Among the new cases from abroad reported on Sunday, a record 14 were in the financial hub of Shanghai and 13 were in Beijing, a decline from 21 the previous day.

The new locally transmitted case was in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou and was also the first known case where the infection of a local person was linked to the arrival of someone from overseas, according to Guangdong province.

Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times newspaper, called for all cities in China to implement 14-day quarantines for people arriving from abroad.

He also called for quarantine policies to apply to people from Hong Kong and Macau as well, he said on his Weibo account on Sunday.

“I am worried that there are similar cases to the Guangzhou one existing in other parts of the country. There were reports previously that people coming back from abroad returned to their homes in Shanghai without any obstacles,” Hu said.

“It matters to the overall situation of China’s next prevention and control efforts if we can plug the leaks.”

The Global Times is a tabloid published by the Ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily.

The latest figures from China’s National Health Commission bring total reported coronavirus cases in the country to 81,054, with 3,261 deaths, including six on Saturday. On Saturday, China reported 41 new coronavirus cases for the previous day, all of them imported.

Of all 97 imported cases as of end-Saturday, 92 of them are Chinese nationals and 51 are Chinese students returning from studying abroad, said Gao Xiaojun, spokesman for the Beijing Municipal Health Commission during a press conference on Sunday.

The Beijing health commission announced separately on its website it had two more imported cases on Sunday, bringing the city’s total number of imported cases to 99 as of Sunday noon.

BACK TO A KIND OF NORMAL

China is trying to revive an economy that is widely expected to contract deeply in the current quarter, with life slowly returning to normal in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, albeit with everyone wearing masks in public.

Still, numerous shops and restaurants remain shut – many have gone out of business – and factories and other workplaces are still not operating at full capacity.

On Sunday, a central bank official called for stepped-up global policy coordination to manage the economic impact of the pandemic. He said China’s recent policy measures were gaining traction, and it has capacity for further action.

Chen Yulu, a deputy governor at the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), also said he expects significant improvement in the Chinese economy in the second quarter.

And while the virus will continue putting upward pressure on near-term consumer prices, there is no basis for long-term inflation or deflation, he told a news briefing.

Globally, roughly 275,000 people have been infected with the virus, and more than 11,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally, with the number of deaths in Italy recently surpassing those in China.

“Now I think the epidemic has been controlled. But this definitely doesn’t mean that it’s over,” said a 25-year-old woman surnamed He who works in the internet sector and was visiting the vast Summer Palace complex in Beijing on Saturday.

“I’m willing to come out today but of course I am still afraid,” she told Reuters.

The central province of Hubei, where the outbreak first emerged late last year in its capital Wuhan, reported its fourth straight day of no new cases.

China has used draconian measures to contain the spread of the virus, including locking down Hubei province.

(Reporting by Cheng Leng, Tony Munroe, Zoey Zhang and Emily Chow; Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Beijing; Editing by Sam Holmes, Christopher Cushing and Catherine Evans)

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