Coronavirus epicentre of Wuhan, China lifts lockdown after 76 days

8 April 2020, 09:50 | Updated: 8 April 2020, 16:35

By Asher McShane

The citizens of Wuhan, China, where the Covid-19 crisis began have been celebrating after the country's lockdown was lifted.

Residents have been leaving their homes for the first time in months and there has been a transport exodus as millions of people try to return home.

Wuhan has lifted the coronavirus lockdown
Wuhan has lifted the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: PA

Wuhan resident Tong Zhengkun was one of millions of people enjoying a renewed sense of freedom after two months indoors on Wednesday when the restrictions were lifted.

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"I haven't been outside for more than 70 days," an emotional Mr Tong said as he watched a celebratory light display from a bridge across the broad Yangtze River flowing through the city.

Passengers board flight MU2527 out of Wuhan
Passengers board flight MU2527 out of Wuhan. Picture: PA

"Being indoors for so long drove me crazy."

Mr Tong said his apartment complex was shut down after residents were found to have contracted the virus.

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Neighbourhood workers delivered groceries to his door.

Streets in the city of 11 million people were clogged with traffic and long queues formed at the airport, railway and bus stations as thousands streamed out of the city to return to homes and jobs elsewhere.

Commuters at Wuhan Railway Station
Commuters at Wuhan Railway Station. Picture: PA

Lockdown measures have not been abandoned completely however.

Schools are still closed, temperatures are checked when people enter buildings and wearing masks is strongly encouraged.

City officials say they want to simultaneously bring back social and commercial life while avoiding a second wave of infections.

Around 65,000 people are expected to leave the city on Wednesday by plane and train.

Wuhan residents are now permitted to leave without special authorisation as long as a mandatory smartphone app powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance shows they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.

It did not take long for traffic to begin moving swiftly through the reopened bridges, tunnels and highway toll booths.

According to airport official Lou Guowei, the first departing flight, MU2527, left Wuhan Tianhe International Airport for Sanya, a coastal city in Hainan province known for its beaches.

"The crew will wear goggles, masks, and gloves throughout the flight," chief flight attendant Guo Binxue said.

"It will be very smooth because we have made much preparation for this flight."

Xiao Yonghong had found herself stuck in Wuhan after returning to her hometown on January 17 to spend the Lunar New Year with her husband, son and parents-in-law.

"We were too excited to fall asleep last night. I was looking forward to lockdown lift very much.

"I set up an alert to remind myself. I was very happy," said Ms Xiao, who was waiting for her train outside Hankou station with her son and husband, all three of them wearing masks and gloves.

At the airport, Chen Yating took personal protection a step further, wearing white coveralls, gloves, a mask and a baseball cap.

She was waiting to catch a flight to the southern business hub of Guangzhou.

"We are living in a good era," Ms Chen said.

"It is not easy to have today's achievement."

Restrictions in the city where most of China's more than 82,000 virus cases and over 3,300 deaths from Covid-19 were reported have been gradually eased as the number of new cases steadily declined.

The government reported no new cases in the city on Wednesday.

While there are questions about the veracity of China's count, the unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei have been successful enough that other countries adopted similar measures.

"The people in Wuhan paid out a lot and bore a lot mentally and psychologically," resident Zhang Xiang said.

"Wuhan people are historically famous for their strong will."

During the lockdown, Wuhan residents could leave their homes only to buy food or attend to other tasks deemed absolutely necessary.

Some were allowed to leave the city, but only if they had paperwork showing they were not a health risk and a letter attesting to where they were going and why.

Even then, authorities could turn them back on a technicality such as missing a stamp, preventing thousands from returning to their jobs outside the city.

Residents of other parts of Hubei were allowed to leave the province starting about three weeks ago, as long as they could provide a clean bill of health.

People leaving the city still face numerous hurdles at their final destinations, such as 14-day quarantines and nucleic acid tests.

Wuhan is a major centre for heavy industry, particularly cars, and while many major plants have restarted production, the small and midsize businesses that employ the most people are still suffering from both a lack of workers and demand.

Measures are being instituted to get them back on their feet, including 20 billion yuan in preferential loans, according to the city government.

The exact source of the virus remains under investigation, though many of the first Covid-19 patients were linked to an outdoor food market in the city.

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