(CNN)China announced Wednesday it will hold the country's biggest annual political meeting in May following a two-month delay, the strongest signal yet from the Chinese government that it considers the novel coronavirus outbreak to be under control.
China to hold annual parliament meeting after two-month delay in signal that coronavirus is under control
The annual meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislative body, is usually held in early March. This year, it was postponed for the first time in decades due to the coronavirus outbreak.
On Wednesday, the NPC Standing Committee announced the parliamentary session will kick off on May 22, citing the "continuously improving situation of epidemic prevention and control on Covid-19" and a "gradual return to normal of economic and social life" in China, according to state news agency Xinhua.
The announcement is a symbolic display of confidence by Beijing that it has successfully contained the coronavirus, which was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year. It has since spread worldwide, infecting more than 3.1 million people and killing at least 216,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The highly choreographed meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament will see nearly 3,000 delegates from around the country gathered in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, unveiling the country's key economic targets, approving budgets, and passing legislation in sessions that last for about 10 days.
Allowing thousands of people to travel to the Chinese capital and sit side by side for days in an indoor setting would have been unthinkable two months ago, when much of the country was under varying types of restrictive lockdown measures intended to stop the fast-spreading virus.
But the country has turned a corner in recent weeks, with the number of newly reported infections slowing to a trickle. Lockdowns have also been lifted across China, including the original epicenter of Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province. People have returned to work, and some provinces have allowed final year high school students to return to classrooms in advance of university entrance examinations.
Beneath the surface, however, fears about a potential second wave of infections remain high. China last month banned the entry of most foreign nationals, following outbreaks around the world and a surge in imported cases. As of Wednesday, a total of 1,660 imported cases have been reported, mostly Chinese nationals returning from overseas. In many cities, all overseas arrivals are required to go into mandatory quarantine for at least two weeks.
Concerns have been particularly heightened over the recent spike in imported and locally transmitted infections near the Chinese-Russian border in northeastern Heilongjiang province. According to provincial health authorities, 386 Covid-19 cases have entered China through the Heilongjiang, and 556 local cases have been reported.
Chinese citizens have rushed to return home as the outbreak worsens in Russia, which has now recorded 93,000 confirmed cases -- nearly 10,000 more than reported in China, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Earlier this month, the city of Suifenhe, which lies right by the Russian border, announced a city-wide lockdown,