Wuhan returns to normal as world still battling COVID-19 pandemic

Wuhan returns to normal as world still battling COVID-19 pandemic

APTOPIX Virus Outbreak China Wuhan
Residents practice tai chi at a park in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Jan 23, 2021.(Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

WUHAN: A year ago, a notice sent to smartphones in Wuhan at 2am announced the world's first coronavirus lockdown, bringing the bustling central Chinese industrial and transport centre to a virtual standstill almost overnight. It would last 76 days.

Early Saturday (Jan 23) morning, however, residents of the city where the virus was first detected were jogging and practising tai chi in a fog-shrouded park beside the mighty Yangtze River.

Life has largely returned to normal in the city of 11 million, even as the rest of the world grapples with the spread of the virus' more contagious variants. Efforts to vaccinate people for COVID-19 have been frustrated by disarray and limited supplies in some places. The scourge has killed more than 2 million people worldwide.

READ: How a year of COVID-19 changed Singapore forever

Traffic was light in Wuhan but there was no sign of the barriers that a year ago isolated neighbourhoods, prevented movement around the city and confined people to their housing compounds and even apartments.

Virus Outbreak China Wuhan
Residents wear masks as they dance at a park in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province on Jan 23, 2021. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

Wuhan accounted for the bulk of China's 4,635 deaths from COVID-19, a number that has largely stayed static for months.

The city has been largely free of further outbreaks since the lockdown was lifted on Apr 8, but questions persist as to where the virus originated and whether Wuhan and Chinese authorities acted fast enough and with sufficient transparency to allow the world to prepare for a pandemic that has sickened more than 98 million.

Wuhan has been praised for its sacrifice in the service of the nation, turning it into a sort of Stalingrad in China's war against the virus, commemorated in books, documentaries, TV shows and panegyrics from officials including head of state and leader of the Communist Party Xi Jinping.

READ: 'I try to forget' - Emotional scars remain for some who lived through Wuhan's COVID-19 lockdown

"We think Wuhan is a heroic city. After all, it stopped its economy to help China deal with the pandemic. This is a noble act," said resident Chen Jiali, 24, who works at an Internet shopping company.

APTOPIX Virus Outbreak China Wuhan
Residents attend an exhibition on the city's fight against the coronavirus in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Jan 23, 2021. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

Virus Outbreak China Wuhan
Residents line up at a popular eatery in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province, Jan 23, 2021. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

China on Saturday announced another 107 cases, bringing its total since the start of the pandemic to 88,911. Of those, the northern province of Heilongjiang accounted for the largest number at 56. Beijing and the eastern financial hub of Shanghai both reported three new cases amid mass testing and lockdowns of hospitals and housing units linked to recent outbreaks.

Authorities are wary of the potential for a new surge surrounding next month's Lunar New Year holiday and are telling people not to travel and to avoid gatherings as much as possible.

Schools are being let out a week early and many have already shifted to online classes. Mask wearing remains virtually universal indoors and on public transport. Mobile phone apps are used to trace people's movements and prove they are both virus-free and have not been to areas where suspected cases have been found.

READ: Pride and caution in Wuhan on COVID-19 lockdown anniversary

Since the end of the lockdown, Wuhan has largely been spared further outbreaks, something residents such as chemistry teacher Yao Dongyu attribute to heightened awareness resulting from the traumatic experience of last year.

"At that time, people were very nervous, but the government gave us huge support. It was a very powerful guarantee, so we got through this together," said Yao, 24. "Since Wuhan people went through the pandemic, they've done better in personal precautions than people in other regions."

Virus Outbreak China Wuhan
Chinese women dressed in traditional costumes and wearing masks visit a popular shopping street in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province, Jan 23, 2021. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

Virus Outbreak China Wuhan
Residents attend an exhibition on the city's fight against the coronavirus in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province, Jan 23, 2021. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

China has doggedly defended its actions in the early days of the outbreak, saying it helped buy time for the rest of the world while pushing fringe theories that the virus was brought to the city from outside China, possibly from a laboratory in the US.

After months of negotiations, China finally gave permission last week for the World Health Organization to send a team of international experts to begin investigating the virus’ origins. They are currently undergoing two weeks of quarantine.

READ: US and China clash at WHO over COVID-19 scientific mission in Wuhan

A panel of experts commissioned by the WHO criticised China and other countries this week for not moving to stem the initial outbreak earlier, prompting Beijing to concede it could have done better.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong in southern China, thousands of residents were locked down Saturday in an unprecedented move to contain a worsening outbreak in the city.

Hong Kong has been grappling to contain a fresh wave of the coronavirus since November. More than 4,300 cases have been recorded in the last two months, making up nearly 40per cent of the city’s total.

Authorities said in a statement that an area comprising 16 buildings in the working-class Yau Tsim Mong district will be locked down until all residents have been tested.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram

Source: AP/dv

Bookmark