A year ago, China announced the first death of a new virus in Wuhan – 12 months later, Covid-19 claimed 1.9 million lives in a relentless march around the world.
But in the central Chinese city of 11 million where the first known outbreak started, the virus has been extinguished.
On Monday morning, the anniversary of slipping unnoticed in Wuhan – commuters roamed freely to work while parks and riverside walks were buzzing with hikers in a city determined to banish its tag as the coronavirus’s zero.
In a sparse report on January 11, 2020, China confirmed its first death from an unknown virus – a 61-year-old man who was a regular at the now infamous Wuhan wetland linked to many of the early cases.
The world soon became aware of the disease that killed him as Covid-19.
Little is still known about the first victim, including his name, while the market where the first reported clusters of cases were traced has remained closed, surrounded by boarding.
Independent experts have not yet been granted access to the market or traced in detail the first days of the virus in Wuhan.
The city has now bounced back and is proud of its revival.
“Wuhan is the safest city in China now, even the whole world,” 66-year-old Xiong Liansheng told AFP on Monday, as dozens of couples danced in a busy park in the morning sun, wearing some face masks.
Commuters went to work and others walked along the river – a sharp contrast to the countries that are still under strict locking and restrictions.
“The Wuhan people’s awareness of epidemic prevention and control is very high – even my two-year-old grandson will be wearing a mask when he goes out,” Xiong said.
China has been criticized at home and abroad for its initial handling of the virus, including attempts to silence whistleblowers and fail to report cases for several days in early January.
Two weeks after confirming the first death, Wuhan and the surrounding province were locked up.
Chinese authorities are trying to eradicate a series of local outbreaks and report 103 new infections on Monday – the highest figure since July last year – mostly in northern Hebei province.
Transport connections have been cut and schools closed in an attempt to limit the cluster.
There is also a growing fear that travel plans for hundreds of millions of people for the moon’s new year next month may be ruined when virus checks are tightened.
But it is a fraction of the daily infections in the United States, Britain and many European countries.
China’s official charge is 4,634 deaths from Covid-19.