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Millions of Chinese to head back to work today

SHANGHAI/BEIJING: China's economy will sputter towards normal today, as millions return to the big cities after the biggest holiday of the year.

Struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Chinese authorities have told businesses to tack up to 10 extra days onto holidays that had been due to finish at the end of January as the rising numbers of dead and infected cast a pall over the country.

Many of China's usually teeming cities have almost become ghost towns during the past two weeks, as the Communist Party rulers ordered virtual lockdowns, cancelled flights, closed factories and kept schools shut.

Many workplaces are expected to remain closed and many white-collar workers will continue to work from home.

US electric car maker Tesla's factory in Shanghai will resume production today, a government official said on Saturday. Apple said it was working to reopen its China corporate offices and call centres and was making preparations to reopen retail stores there.

The virus has killed more than 800 people in China and has infected over 37,000 .

As millions of Chinese prepare to go back to work, the public dismay and mistrust of official numbers is evident on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.

"What's even more frustrating is that these are only the 'official' data," said one user.

"Don't say anything else. We all know we can't purchase masks anywhere, why are we still going back to work?" said a second.

"More than 20,000 doctors and nurses around the country have been sent to Hubei, but why are the numbers still rising?" asked a third.

It is in China's central Hubei province that the virus has infected most people by far. But new deaths in Hubei's capital Wuhan saw a rare decline.

New infection cases on Saturday also recorded the first drop since Feb 1, falling back below 3,000 to 2,656 cases. Of those, 2,147 cases were in Hubei province.

Professor of epidemiology Joseph Eisenberg at the University of Michigan School of Public Health said it was too early to say whether the epidemic was peaking.

"Even if reported cases might be peaking, we don't know what is happening with unreported cases," he said. "This is especially an issue in some of the more rural areas." - REUTERS

WORLD