About 58 million people in China have been forced into lockdown as residents in the heart of the coronavirus outbreak are told only one family member can leave the house once every three days.

The central Chinese province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, has seen residents ordered to stay home until further notice.

Under new rules, which came into effect on Sunday, each one of the province's 200,000 rural communities will be sealed shut, with only one guarded entrance. Similar restrictions will be placed on urban residential compounds.

Only community residents and vehicles are permitted to enter, and only one person from each household may leave every three days to buy essentials from the supermarket.

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"In principle, every villager should stay at home. If he really needs to step outside, he has to wear a mask and keep a minimum 1.5 metres from other people," the regulations say, according to the South China Morning Post.

"All leisure and entertainment venues shall be shut down and all group activities shall be suspended. Weddings should be postponed, and funeral processes minimised … Visiting other households is strictly prohibited, as is playing mahjong and card games."

The roads of Hubei will be off-limits to any vehicles except police vans, ambulances and other specially licensed vehicles.

All other businesses will stay closed, with the exception of chemists, hotels, food shops and medical services.

A worker wearing a protective suit transfers patients at a hospital newly designated to treat COVID-19 patients in China's Hubei Province. Photo / AP
A worker wearing a protective suit transfers patients at a hospital newly designated to treat COVID-19 patients in China's Hubei Province. Photo / AP

However, according to The Straits Times, the government will arrange for essentials to be delivered to the homes of people who are restricted.

The outlet said businesses were to cease operations until they were given an official green light from authorities.

The province of 58 million accounts for over 80 per cent of the confirmed cases and 96 per cent of the deaths in China.

CNN reports that nearly half of China's population — 780 million people — are facing travel restrictions.

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The extreme measures come three weeks after China locked down Wuhan – a measure that was later mirrored in other cities.

They also come as President Xi Jinping called on the nation to get back to business and revive production after the extended Lunar New Year break.

Four days ago, Ying Yong, the former mayor Shanghai, became the new Communist Party Secretary of Hubei – one of the most important political jobs in the province.