Wuhan awakes from months-long lockdown as travel is restored

Jesús Centeno | EFE
Photo Credit: Unsplash

Wuhan, China – Wuhan awoke from a months-long slumber on Wednesday with thousands of people leaving the Chinese city as strict quarantine measures that have kept it sealed for almost 11 weeks were lifted at dawn.

After 76 days of enforced quarantine and amid an atmosphere of contained joy, more than a thousand vehicles chugged along the roads of Wuhan as most of the traffic controls imposed since January were lifted.

Despite the lifting of most measures, 15 of the 75 checkpoints that regulated inbound and outbound traffic in the city remained operational on Wednesday, a worker at the toll booths said during a tour organized for the media.

Since 23 January, all exits and entry points have been restricted in Wuhan, the capital of the central-eastern province of Hubei, after the Covid-19 epidemic took hold in late December.

The authorities now claim to have the outbreak under control, railway services resumed in the three stations of Wuhan, from where the first trains departed.

Some were bound for cities like Jingzhou, in the province of Hubei, while others headed for large cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai.

According to the state Global Times, ticket sales figures updated as of Tuesday showed that more than 55,000 passengers had already purchased tickets to travel by train, of which 40 percent are destined for Pearl River, where thousands of factories employ migrant workers from the rest of China.

“Very happy, very happy, I’m going home,” a passenger told EFE while rushing to start her trip to her hometown.

Air transport also resumed operations on Wednesday, although on a reduced scale, as the city’s airport witnessed a steady, if quiet, trickle of travelers.

Many of the passengers sported white protective overalls, including children.

At the airport, Zhang is waiting for his flight to his hometown Qingdao, in the east of the country.

“I want to return. The epidemic surprised me while in Wuhan, I have not been able to return since then,” he tells Efe.

A woman covered from head-to-toe in a white protective suit says she is relieved to see the flux of people in the terminal and is hopeful she will soon get to Beijing where she works.

However, getting to Beijing will require a stopover, as there are no direct flights to the Chinese capital, airport employees told reporters.

“I’m going to Tianjin (in the northeast) first. I wasn’t sure this trip would come to fruition, but for now, everything is going well,” the woman adds.

Even though normality is slowly being restored, social distancing is still a priority.

Planes will not travel full and will carry around 50 percent of their total capacity to prevent possible infections spreading, despite passengers undergoing extensive health and safety checks before boarding.

Only those who can verify they are in good health through QR codes generated by a mobile app run on the Alipay and WeChat platforms will be able to purchase tickets.

Even after proving they are healthy, passengers still get their temperature checked.

The mobile health code app developed by the Chinese authorities establishes three categories: green, yellow and red.

A green code guarantees the person is not infected and has not been in close contact with confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases. A yellow code indicates the user should be in home isolation and a red code confirms the holder is a Covid-19 patient and should be in quarantine.

Aside from railway connections and air travel, the state news agency Xinhua reported that another 30 bus routes will also resume Wednesday to bring total operating lines to 346, and another subway line will reopen.

Taxis and transport by ferry and tram will also launch services on Wednesday, as well as coaches for long-distance routes, while medium- and short-distance routes will remain suspended for the time being.

The city of 11 million inhabitants has recorded more than 50,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the end of December, of which 2,571 have died, according to official data.

On Wednesday Wuhan registered one Covid-19 death after China recorded a milestone on Tuesday of zero deaths, the first time since the outbreak began, according to the National Health Commission.

In Wuhan, there are still 445 people infected with the coronavirus of the 1,190 infections in China.

Of those infected in the country, 189 patients are in a serious condition and 155 of those are in the capital of Hubei.

Official figures, however, show a very notable improvement of the situation after at least 3,333 people died from the respiratory disease.

Since the pandemic began, 81,802 people have contracted the virus in China.

Health authorities said that as of midnight on Tuesday two new Covid-19 deaths were recorded, one in Shanghai (in the east) and the aforementioned one in Wuhan.

To date, 715,854 people have been monitored for having had close contact with infected persons. Of those 13,334 remain under observation, and 83 are suspected SARS-CoV-2 infections.

On 12 March the Chinese government declared that the peak of transmissions had come to an end in the Asian country.