Coronavirus: Life After Quarantine in China’s Capital of Beijing

As lockdowns spread across the U.S., the U.K. and other countries, early lessons on how effective they’ll be against the new coronavirus are coming from abroad.

Even as China moves to lift a quarantine on the original virus epicenter of Wuhan after stanching the outbreak, India and much of Europe are locking down. Comparisons are tricky because of differences in the outbreak severity, testing regimes and health-care systems in each country.

Countries like South Korea have countered the pandemic successfully without large-scale quarantines, relying more on tools like testing and contact tracing. Even so, the numbers are cause for optimism that a global clampdown on public life is helping to slow the spread of the virus. The question is how long the measures will need to last to ensure the outbreak doesn’t surge again.

Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, compared social distancing with putting the brakes on a car that’s speeding down a hill.

“If you let your foot off the brake, which is letting up on interventions, then gravity will start to accelerate the car again,” he said. “As long as there are any cases still around, you will start to speed up and get more cases.”

Here is how China has managed the outbreak so far.

New cases of the virus transmitting within the country dropped to zero about eight weeks after the government’s massive quarantine of some 60 million people in Hubei province. Now, with the lockdown on the virus’s epicenter in Wuhan due to be lifted on April 8, countries around the world will be watching closely to see whether infections surge again.

As new infections ease, the world’s industrial giant is getting back to work. China’s relatively rapid rebound may be little comfort to other afflicted countries, however, since the outbreak was relatively concentrated in the Hubei region, making it easier to restart factories elsewhere.

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