China on Thursday marked a major milestone in its battle against the coronavirus pandemic as it recorded zero domestic infections for the first time since the outbreak emerged, but a spike in imported cases threatened its progress.
The stark reversal comes as nations across the world have shut down in a desperate effort to contain the pandemic, with more people now infected and having died abroad than in China.
There were no new cases in Wuhan — the central city where the virus first emerged in December — for the first time since authorities started publishing figures in January, according to the National Health Commission.
Wuhan and its 11 million people were placed under strict quarantine on January 23, with more than 40 million other people in the rest of Hubei province entering lockdown in the following days.
The rest of China also enacted tough measures to limit public gatherings.
There were eight more deaths in China — all in Hubei — raising the nationwide total to 3,245, according to the commission.
There have been nearly 81,000 infections in China but only 7,263 people remain sick with the COVID-19 disease.
The global number has shot past 200,000, with more than 8,700 deaths.
On March 10, President Xi Jinping visited Wuhan for the first time since the outbreak began and declared that the spread of the disease was “basically curbed”.
On the same day, Hubei officials allowed people to travel within the province for the first time since January, excluding Wuhan.
On Wednesday, Hubei authorities announced they were partially opening its borders to allow healthy people from low-risk areas to leave the province if they have jobs or residences elsewhere. This also excludes Wuhan.
Life has slowly started to return to normal in the rest of the country, with people back at work, factories up and running, and schools in some regions resuming or preparing to go back to class.