Wuhan, capital of Central China’s Hubei Province, restarts on Wednesday, April 8, after a 76-day lockdown as local authorities officially lift outbound travel restrictions, signaling the normal resumption of life for the city of 11 million people and a phased victory in combating the novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19).
Many ordinary Wuhan residents such as delivery men, office employees, doctors and nurses as well as migrant workers trapped in the city since the beginning of the Spring Festival holidays in late January have been eagerly waiting for this day. When the hardest-hit city emerges gradually from its most difficult period and fully embraces the springtime, the whole country is also moving forward steadily and cautiously in preventing sporadic infection cases, fending off the risks of a possible second wave.
The hustle and bustle of crowds now can be seen on Wuhan’s streets. Although wearing masks, people can be seen full of energy; laughter and constant intimate arguments being heard among groups of naturally chirpy and rambunctious Wuhan people.
Thirty-year-old Hou, a local Wuhan resident, said she was surprised to see so many people on the street on Tuesday, the day before the final lifting of Wuhan’s travel ban.
“I haven’t left home for two months. Wuhan’s ‘restart’ is a good sign; it is hope, and a victory, for me, for all Wuhan residents,” Hou told the Global Times on Tuesday.
The city entered a countdown to the end of the travel ban, a major step the country has taken in combating the COVID-19 epidemic since January 23, which helped slow the virus’ transmission to other regions in China and delayed the spread to other countries, as a recent medical journal estimated, by nearly 80 percent.
Wang Qi, an employee from the Wuhan section of China Railway High-Speed (CRH), said that his colleagues and he have been preparing weeks in advance for the lifting of the two-month travel ban.
“We have been disinfecting; maintaining and examining the trains several times a day, to make sure everything goes smoothly on Wednesday when the first train departs Wuhan in two months,” said Wang.
He said only about 30 percent of trains in CRH’s Wuhan section will depart Wuhan on Wednesday, “because risks of the pandemic still exist and it hasn’t completely receded.”
Wang said they prioritized local laborers who are in urgent need of beginning to work outside the city, as passengers leave Wuhan on Wednesday. “Many travelers also prefer private vehicles as they fear potential transmission in the train’s sealed and concentrated spaces.”
Following thorough maintenance checks and reviews, in total 230 bullet trains are being made ready for departure, according to local media reports. Local authorities also announced on Tuesday that starting from 00:00 on April 8, Wuhan will lift 75 checkpoints designated to control outbound flows and resume normal function of 15 major traffic security checkpoints, while random inspection work would be carried out in line with epidemic prevention and control work.
About 55,000 people are estimated to leave Wuhan by train on Wednesday, most of whom are heading to the Pearl River Delta, home to many of China’s warehouses. The first train will go to Nanning, South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region at 7:06 am, according to the local railway authority.
For some people, the easing ban means the replenishment of daily life pleasures; but for others, it means the resumption of their livelihoods.
Wang Lei (pseudonym), a delivery man, said he was told to go back to work one week ago. “When I heard the government finally decided to lift the ban, the first thought in my mind was that I can have my life back.”
Wang stayed at home earning nothing for the past two months. Pointing to the crowds walking in front of luxury shops, he said, “The more people here, the merrier. If Wuhan remains locked down for another two weeks, my pockets will dry up.”
Cautiously moving forward
Hong Jie, a community worker in Wuhan’s Zhongshan district, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the lifting of the traffic ban will not affect the community’s strict health management measures.
“The strict measures regarding community management will be carried on,” said Hong.
The community workers are also helping register recovered patients and others who finished their quarantine periods. “We need to make their health codes turn green once we are sure that they are ‘clean’. So they can move around freely.”
She said certain shops and restaurants need to pass hygiene examinations and receive careful disinfection guidance from authorities before they can be opened to the public.
Local officials in Wuhan have warned earlier that they should prevent relapses of infection cases due to lifting the city lockdown, especially after the country has made visible progress in containing the virus.
Mi Feng, spokesperson of the National Health Commission, said on Tuesday that the country has reported no new confirmed cases, no new suspected cases and no new deaths on Monday, and domestic critically ill cases have dropped below 200 for the first time since the outbreak.
“However, there have been sporadic infection cases in the country for several days. While the epidemic situation is worsening in Europe and the US, imported cases surpassed domestic ones [in China], bringing pressure for treatment, prevention and control work, testings as well as quarantine measures,” he said.
China still faces domestic cases and imported infections, adding up the challenges, and the prevention and control task is still arduous, Mi noted.
Though Wuhan’s city lockdown will be lifted on Wednesday, there won’t be any changes in community-based control work for residential areas, and now it potentially may be the most dangerous period as the flow of people would largely increase, the community inspection needs to be further enhanced, Ye Qing, deputy director of the Statistics Bureau of Central China’s Hubei Province, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Considering the COVID-19 pandemic situation overseas and resumption of outbound traffic, many uncertainties have emerged, making prevention and control work in Wuhan more complicated and long-term community-based control mechanisms necessary, Hu Shuguang, deputy commander of Wuhan’s epidemic prevention and control, told a press conference on Tuesday.
In addition to daily inspections such as temperature screening and registration, local authorities would thoroughly investigate asymptomatic cases, those testing positive again after recovery and visitors coming to Wuhan for the first time, he said.
As of Monday, Wuhan had in total 6,988 virus-free residential compounds, accounting for 98.4 percent of the total. However, the number of virus-free compounds dropped by 45 compared to the number three days ago, and still 70 residential compounds suspended or canceled their viral free status due to asymptomatic patients, according to the local prevention and control commanding unit in Wuhan.
Some other places have also been strengthening procedures regarding incoming arrivals from Wuhan and Hubei. East China’s Zhejiang said on Tuesday that it will conduct nucleic acid and serum tests on inbound travelers from Wuhan in the next 14 days to bolster screening of asymptomatic patients. People who test positive will be classified as asymptomatic carriers or confirmed cases.
Cheng Cai, a local doctor from Wuhan Tongji hospital who has been fighting the epidemic on the frontline for more than two months, said there are still many unanswered questions such as transmission routes and the virus itself. “We can’t relax prevention work and we need to still prevent a possible rebound,” he told the Global Times on Tuesday.
“Asymptomatic cases have occurred since the beginning of the outbreak. Before we figure out such questions, enhancing prevention and control is the only effective measure,” he said.
Entering and exiting shopping malls or other public places in Wuhan now requires constant green code checking, an indication that the holder is clear of viral infection and never has had any close contacts with suspected or confirmed cases. But for Hou, the local resident, it is nothing compared with the joy that she can finally breathe fresh air.
“I will always cherish the opportunity to walk on the street freely,” she said.