WUHAN: People thronged the streets of China's central city of Wuhan this week, as they made final preparations for Chinese New Year to bring the curtain down on a year marred by the COVID-19 pandemic that killed thousands.
The outbreak, which first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, prompted authorities to enforce a complete shutdown between the end of January and early April last year, as hospitals overflowed with the sick and dying.
As Chinese New Year approached, things were nearly back to normal in Wuhan, which has been largely virus-free for months, as people scrambled to make last-minute purchases of food and decorations for family celebrations ahead of the Year of the Ox, which begins on Friday (Feb 12).
"I feel happy," said Song Bo, 33, who works in the auto industry. "Last year, we just stayed at home without doing anything or slept at home every day. This year, though we still need to wear masks, is much better."
Some shopkeepers were also upbeat.
"When the city was put under lockdown, there was no one on the street," said Li Hong Gang, a lantern vendor. "Now, business is recovering and I am satisfied with my sales."
The city's recovery has drawn close scrutiny, with video images of a crowded music rave in a swimming pool making global headlines last August.
But for merchants at its wet markets, such as Wu Xiuhong, the effects of the shutdown still linger.
Daily sales at Wu's store, which sells nuts, have halved this year from their usual figure of 40,000 yuan (US$6,200) ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, she said.
"It's depressing," she added. "This year is too terrible. We usually have 10 staff but this year we can handle the store with only four."