China lifts 76-day travel ban on Wuhan, centre of the coronavirus pandemic

The blockage that has served as a model for countries battling coronavirus around the world has ended after 11 weeks: Chinese authorities once again allow residents of Wuhan to enter and exit the sprawling city where the pandemic started.

Just after midnight Wednesday, the 11 million inhabitants of the city are now authorized to leave without special authorization as long as a compulsory smartphone application powered by a mixture of data monitoring and government surveillance shows that they are in good health. and have not been in recent contact with anyone who has confirmed they have the virus.

The occasion was marked by a light show on either side of the wide Yangtze River, with skyscrapers and bridges radiating animated images of health workers helping patients, as well as displaying the words “heroic city “, A title awarded to Wuhan by the president and communist. Party leader Xi Jinping. Along the quays and bridges, the citizens waved flags chanting “Wuhan, let’s go!” and sang a capella interpretations of the Chinese national anthem.

“I did not stay outside for more than 70 days,” said a touching Tong Zhengkun, who was watching the scene from a bridge. The residents of his apartment complex contracted COVID-19, so the entire building was closed. He couldn’t even go out to buy groceries, which the neighborhood workers brought him.

“Being inside for so long has driven me crazy,” he said.

It didn’t take long for traffic to start moving quickly through newly reopened bridges, tunnels and toll booths, while hundreds waited for the first trains and flights out of town, many hoping to return to work elsewhere.

Restrictions in the city where most of the more than 82,000 cases of virus and more than 3,300 deaths have been reported in China have been gradually eased in recent weeks, as the number of new cases has steadily decreased. The latest government figures released on Tuesday did not indicate any new cases.

While the veracity of China’s count raises questions, the unprecedented foreclosure of Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province has been successful enough for countries around the world to take similar action.

“The people of Wuhan paid a lot and endured a lot mentally and psychologically,” said resident Zhang Xiang. “The people of Wuhan are historically famous for their strong will.”

During the 76-day isolation, residents of Wuhan were only allowed out of their homes to buy food or do other things that were deemed absolutely necessary. Some were allowed to leave town, but only if they had documents proving that they were not a health risk and a letter stating where they were going and why. Even then, the authorities could refer them to a technicality such as missing a stamp, preventing thousands of people from resuming their work outside the city.

Residents of other parts of Hubei were allowed to leave the province about three weeks ago, as long as they could provide a healthy state.

Preventive measures such as wearing masks, temperature controls and limiting access to residential communities will remain in place in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei.

In an editorial, the flag bearer of the ruling Communist Party, the People’s Daily, warned against celebrating it too early.

“This day that people have been waiting for a long time and it is just to be excited. However, this day does not mark the final victory, “the newspaper said. “Right now, we still have to remember that when Wuhan is unlocked, we can be satisfied, but we must not relax.”

In anticipation of the lifting of the isolation, SWAT teams and staff in white coveralls patrolled outside Hankou station, while the guards attended a security briefing under the marble arches at its entrance.

Tickets for trains from Wuhan to cities in China have already been announced on electronic billboards, with the first train leaving for Beijing at 6:25 a.m. A passenger-only line to the capital has been closed , while speakers made announcements on pandemic response measures. , such as keeping safe distances and wearing masks.

Wuhan is a major center for heavy industry, especially automobiles, and although many large factories have restarted production, the small and medium-sized enterprises that provide the most jobs still suffer from a shortage of workers and demand. . Measures are in place to put them back on their feet, including 20 billion yuan ($ 2.8 billion) in preferential loans, according to the city government.

China prevented people from leaving or entering Wuhan from Jan. 23 in a surprise announcement in the middle of the night and extended the lockdown to most of the province over the next few days. Rail service and flights were canceled and checkpoints were installed on the roads of the central province.

The drastic measures came when the coronavirus started spreading to the rest of China and abroad during the Lunar New Year holidays in late January, when many Chinese are traveling.

The exact source of the virus remains under investigation, although it is suspected of being linked to an outdoor market in the city.

In preparation for the end of the foreclosure, Party Secretary Wang Zhonglin, the city’s top official, inspected the city’s airport and train stations on Monday to make sure they were ready. The city must “apply prevention when it opens, maintain security and order and ensure stability,” said Wang.

First mission: to ensure that the epidemic does not reappear, he said.