SHANGHAI — In the eastern Chinese city of Yuyao, a group of five face-masked workers at a Geely auto plant stood almost shoulder to shoulder behind a utility vehicle as they conducted paint and other quality checks.
That scene would not have been possible a month ago.
But Reuters visits to six factories, including those operated by Daimler AG’s China venture and Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics, showed manufacturers in China have begun to ease strict physical distancing rules as the coronavirus outbreak is now contained. China’s daily new coronavirus cases have recently dropped to single digits.
The most significant rule to be relaxed — in line with an easing of guidelines by local governments — has been the requirement that production line workers stand at least 1 meter (3.3 feet) apart. That rule was put in place by many authorities in February when the outbreak was at its height in China but it was also a rule that auto industry insiders said had hamstrung…