Lockdown measures in China must be lifted gradually in order to prevent a “second wave” of Covid-19 infections, scientists warned Thursday as thousands in the outbreak city of Wuhan were finally allowed to travel. Also Read - China Lifts 73-day Lockdown in Wuhan, The Origin Point of Pandemic; 'Not Time to Completely Lower Guard,' Warn Experts

The strict social distancing measures, including a near 1l-week travel ban, appear to have paid off, and life is slowly getting back to normal in the megacity, even as the virus devastates Europe and the United States (US). Also Read - John Bolton Accuses WHO of Being 'Accomplice to China's Coverup of COVID-19', Asks Director-General To Resign

The restrictions enabled Chinese authorities to get a handle on the virus, which during its peak infected thousands of people daily in Hubei province, where Wuhan is situated. Also Read - China Refutes 'Cover-Up' Allegations Regarding Covid-19 Outbreak, Says 'We Shared All Information With WHO'

The researchers’ findings

Scientists in Hong Kong said that regions outside Hubei would need to gradually lift social distancing measures or risk the epidemic surging back.

They analysed the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in four Chinese cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wenzhou — between mid-January and the end of February.

The team found that measures such as closing businesses and schools and severely restricting travel successfully reduced the virus’ reproduction rate to under 1 — that is, each infected person infected only one other on average.

This is a significant improvement on the transmissibility rate at the start of the outbreak, roughly 2-3, enough to spread the disease exponentially.

Models showed that lifting the measures prematurely would lead to new infections approaching levels seen at the peak of the first outbreak wave.

The researchers also found that Covid-19 cases were deadly in less than 1 percent of cases outside of Hubei.

Inside the hardest-hit province, however, mortality stood at 5.91 percent as Hubei’s health systems became overwhelmed, the analysis showed.

“While these control measures appear to have reduced the number of infections to very low levels, without herd immunity against Covid-19, cases could easily resurge as businesses, factory operations, and schools gradually resume and increase social mixing,” said Joseph Wu from the University of Hong Kong who co-led the research.

Wu, a world-renowned expert in infectious diseases, said that developed countries would need to strike a balance between keeping Covid-19 reproduction rates below 1 and allowing the economy to function as best as possible.

The study also looked at the varying Covid-19 mortality rates among the 10 hardest-hit Chinese provinces, and found a strong link between survival rates and economic development.

These ranged from 0 per cent mortality in prosperous Jiangsu to 1.76 percent in less developed provinces such as Henan.

“Even in the most prosperous and well-resourced megacities like Beijing and Shanghai, healthcare resources are finite, and services will struggle with a sudden increase in demand,” said Gabriel Leung from the University of Hong Kong.

“Our findings highlight the importance of ensuring that local healthcare systems have adequate staffing and resources to minimise Covid-related deaths.”

Coronavirus cases in China

China has reported 63 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, including 61 imported ones, rasing concern of a second wave of infections.

The Chinese health authority said on Thursday that two deaths were also reported taking the total death toll in the country to 3,335. The overall coronavirus cases have reached 81,865 in the country.

China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said on Thursday it received reports of 63 new confirmed coronavirus cases on the Chinese mainland on Wednesday, of which 61 were imported, taking the total tally to 1,104.

After nearly three months of grim battle against the coronavirus since January, China is fast returning to normalcy with factories and business humming back to activity amid concerns of a rebound due to steady rise of new infections especially coming from thousands of Chinese returning from abroad.

The 73-day lockdown of Wuhan was lifted by the authorities on Wednesday. Tens of thousands of people in Wuhan, the origin point and epicentre for the coronavirus pandemic, began travelling out of the sprawling city.

However, two new domestic cases were reported in Guangdong Province.

Also on Wednesday, 56 new asymptomatic Covid-19 cases, including 28 from abroad, were reported on the mainland taking their total to 1,104. Many of them were put under quarantine.

Asymptomatic coronavirus cases are those who test positive for the virus but do not show any symptoms and have the potential to cause sporadic clusters of infections.

As of Wednesday, the Chinese mainland had reported a total of 1,103 imported cases. Of the cases, 374 had been discharged from hospitals after recovery, and 729 were being treated with 31 in severe condition, NHC said.

It said 73 people were still suspected of being infected with the virus.

Hubei province and its capital Wuhan from where the virus was first surfaced in December last year, reported two new deaths on Wednesday with no cases.

Wednesday was also a landmark day for Wuhan as ten of thousands of people of the 11 million city travelled by road, air and trains for the first time after Jan 23 lockdown as the government has lifted all cubs.

By Wednesday, 960 confirmed cases including four deaths had been reported in Hong Kong, 45 confirmed cases in the Macao and 379 in Taiwan including five deaths, media reports stated.

The virus, which first broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, has since spread around the world infecting more than 1.4 million people, killing more than 82,000.