China announced Tuesday that a lockdown would be lifted on more than 50 million people in central Hubei province where the coronavirus first emerged late last year.
But fears rose over the second wave of infections fuelled by people arriving from overseas.
After two months living with draconian curbs on daily life, residents will be allowed to leave Hubei from midnight Tuesday if healthy, while Wuhan city — the initial epicentre of the outbreak — will end restrictions from April 8.
The province ordered the shutdown in January but has been gradually easing the rules and permitting people to move about within Hubei and return to work.
People who wish to travel in or out of Hubei or Wuhan will be able to as long as they have a “green” health code issued by authorities.
But schools in the province will remain closed.
New cases have slowed dramatically over the last month, although the first locally transmitted infection in nearly a week was reported in Wuhan Tuesday, along with three cases elsewhere in the country.
But the figures pale in comparison to imported cases, which reached 74 nationwide on Tuesday — a trend that has fuelled anxiety about a possible second wave of infections just as authorities appeared to be bringing the country’s outbreak under control.