China closes makeshift hospitals as virus cases plunge

China closes makeshift hospitals as virus cases plunge

A staff member removes waste after the final patients were discharged from a temporary hospital set up to treat people with the COVID-19 coronavirus in a sports stadium in Wuhan
A staff member removes waste after the final patients were discharged from a temporary hospital set up to treat people with the COVID-19 coronavirus in a sports stadium in Wuhan

BEIJING - China has closed most of the makeshift hospitals opened to receive coronavirus patients in the epidemic's epicentre as the number of new infections in the country hit a record low.

There were 40 new cases nationwide, the National Health Commission said Monday, the lowest number of fresh cases since it started reporting the data in January.

Most of the new cases, as well as 22 new deaths, were in Hubei, the central province at the epicentre of the outbreak.

The deaths -- which were all in Hubei except one -- bring the country's toll to 3,119.

More than 80,700 people have been infected in total in mainland China.

New infections reported from Hubei have been on a downward trend for several weeks.

On Monday, all the new cases in the province were in the capital city Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December.

In Wuhan, nearly 31,000 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital, the provincial government said.

Eleven of the 16 makeshift hospitals in Wuhan converted from public facilities including stadiums and schools were suspended by Sunday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Two of the most recent makeshift hospitals to be closed -- a converted sports centre and a factory -- had enough capacity for nearly 2,000 patients at a time.

The two hospitals discharged a final batch of 61 patients on Sunday, Xinhua said.

New infections in China have been generally declining in recent weeks as the country's draconian measures appear to be working.

A senior government official hinted last week that China could soon lift the lockdown on the province imposed in late January, which has effectively restricted the movement of some 56 million people in Hubei.

The only new cases outside Hubei were four imported from overseas, the health commission said, bringing the total of imported infections brought into the country to 67.

The rise in imported cases is raising fears that the country's progress in bringing infections down could be undone, and several local authorities are imposing quarantines on those arriving from hard-hit areas.

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