China announced on Tuesday an end to travel curbs at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, as governments around the world tightened lockdowns affecting 1.7 billion people in a desperate effort to slow the spread of the deadly disease.
Hubei province, where the novel coronavirus first emerged late last year, will allow healthy residents to travel from midnight, officials said, two months after they were ordered to stay indoors.
The relaxation of rules, which will not apply to the hardest-hit city of Wuhan until April 8, comes as Britain and New Zealand joined nations in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Asia in declaring countrywide lockdowns in a bid to stop the flow of new infections.
World Health Organisation chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the global pandemic was clearly accelerating.
The number of coronavirus deaths has topped 16,200, with more than 360,000 declared infections in 174 countries and territories.
Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it took 67 days from the beginning of the outbreak in China in December for the virus to infect the first 100,000 people worldwide.
In comparison, it required only 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000, he said.
Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged that many countries were struggling to take more aggressive measures because of a lack of resources but said, “we are not helpless bystanders”.
“We can change the trajectory of this pandemic,” he said.
China has trumpeted its response to the crisis since doctors began to get a handle on cases of Covid-19, and on Tuesday state media proudly reported that a popular section of the Great Wall would re-open.
Visitors have to wear a mask and stay 1m from everyone else, media said.
Overall, China had 78 new infections on Tuesday, the vast majority brought in from overseas.