The Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province, epicenter of the global virus pandemic, formally ended its two-month lockdown on Wednesday with a huge celebration.
Travelers swarmed airports and railroad stations to catch outbound flights and trains, even as the rest of the world viewed China’s claims of zero new infections with deep suspicion and other Asian nations suffered under their own lockdowns.
Wuhan commemorated the end of the lockdown with a big light show on Tuesday night:
— ABC News (@ABC) April 8, 2020
Voice of America News (VOA) on Wednesday saw jubilant Wuhan residents taking to the streets, dancing around without wearing masks, patronizing restaurants and cafes that decided to open, and leaving the city by the thousands.
About 65,000 people were expected to leave the city on Wednesday, tracked by a mandatory smartphone app and China’s ubiquitous surveillance systems. At least a thousand vehicles passed through a toll booth on the edge of Wuhan overnight. Air passengers were packed aboard planes crewed by attendants wearing masks, goggles, and gloves.
“Schools are still closed, temperatures are checked when people enter buildings and masks are strongly encouraged. City leaders say they want to simultaneously bring back social and commercial life while avoiding a second wave of infections,” VOA reported.
Wuhan residents told VOA the end of the lockdown was a tremendous “achievement” and the city’s recovery is a testament to the “strong will” of its people.
Chinese state media insisted all necessary precautions have been taken while sticking to the Communist Party line that the coronavirus has been effectively wiped out in Wuhan. The Global Times celebrated “the hustle and bustle of crowds” returning to Wuhan’s streets, writing fondly of “energy, laughter, and constant intimate arguments” filling the air as the “naturally chirpy and rambunctious” people of Wuhan emerged from quarantine.
The Global Times detailed the surge of outbound traffic from the city:
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.
The city’s transport authority also warned on Tuesday that lifting the outbound travel ban does not mean relaxation of epidemic measures. Those who do not need to leave Wuhan to resume work should avoid going out, otherwise, those who need to go out and resume work need to make plans regarding travel routes in order to avoid massive gatherings and traffic jams.
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.
Meanwhile, the Global Times said “arduous” prevention techniques are still in place because China has to deal with those pesky “imported cases” plus a few hard-to-detect asymptomatic local carriers:
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.
Another Global Times piece on Wednesday told cities like Milan and New York to look upon Wuhan as a shining example that proves “this invisible enemy, while extremely dangerous and tough, can be beaten and that there is indeed a bright light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Global Times repeated the assertion that Wuhan has zero confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and invited outsiders to visit the reinvigorated city:
While this is far from declaring a victory given the persistent risks and challenges ahead, the move on Wednesday marks the biggest step yet for not just Wuhan but the entire world since the outbreak.
It is a moment when Wuhan residents can finally shout out to the world: “We are back!” It is a moment that shows the world that we can beat this common enemy, though we have to pay a huge price.
For Wuhan, this means its residents are now allowed to leave the city and others are welcome to visit. It means one of the largest transportation hubs in the nation is open for business again. It means millions of businesses in the city – small and large, service providers and manufacturers – can further pick up the pace to resume their operations. It means Wuhan is finally on the fast track to a full recovery.
After chastising New York and Milan for being a little slow to implement the kind of lockdown measures that ostensibly kept infections to a minimum in Wuhan, the Global Times concluded by restating the Communist Party line: “China has and will continue to seek cooperation with other countries. We hope all countries can put aside their political differences and work jointly toward the same goal – defeating this common enemy and restarting the global economy.”
The People’s Daily celebrated the reopening of Wuhan with an ill-advised tweet inviting the world to “have a taste of Wuhan” and let the “mouth-watering specialties in Wuhan satisfy your stomach.” The tweet was hastily deleted on Wednesday after heated criticism and mockery.
The Epoch Times on Tuesday cited local reports that suggested Wuhan hospitals are discharging coronavirus patients too early and officials are downplaying the number of both asymptomatic cases and obvious infections.
Sources in Wuhan said medical staff have been instructed not to publicly declare coronavirus cases, and in one case that reached social media, a hospital refused to admit an elderly man who needed treatment for other issues because it evidently did not trust his negative test results from the coronavirus treatment center that discharged him.
Despite a flood of Chinese state media reports that Wuhan residents are jubilant over the end of the lockdown, the flood of couples expected to seek marriage certificates after the lockdown was lifted did not materialize. Wuhan registered hundreds of marriages each day before the pandemic, but on Tuesday when the marriage registration office reopened after two months, only a handful of people applied. Some of this was blamed on glitches in the smartphone application couples were told to use when they set up an appointment at the registration office.