Trains packed with thousands of passengers yesterday arrived in Wuhan as the Chinese city that was ground zero for the global COVID-19 pandemic partly reopened after months in lockdown.
Returnees, some wearing two masks, latex gloves and protective suits, were greeted at the railway station by staff in similar gear — a reminder that while the city is emerging from isolation, it is still far from normal.
“As the train neared Wuhan, my child and I were both very excited,” a 36-year-old woman told reporters.
She and her daughter had been away from her husband for nearly 10 weeks.
“It felt like the train was moving faster than before, and my daughter said that the driver must know we really want to go home,” she said.
“She rushed toward her father, and watching them from behind I couldn’t help but cry,” she added.
Wuhan, where the contagion was first detected late last year, was placed under lockdown in January, with residents forbidden to leave, roadblocks ring-fencing the city’s outskirts and drastic restrictions on daily life.
With the outbreak deemed under control, rules have been eased to allow people to enter the city and many trains had been fully booked days in advance.
Restrictions on residents heading out of Wuhan would not be lifted until April 8, when the airport is also to reopen for domestic flights.
Travelers were allowed to leave the train station after showing a green code on a mobile app to prove that they are healthy.
Those who had been overseas were directed to reception desks to be tested for the virus as China battles to control infections brought from abroad.
A woman told reporters that she was finally able to return to Wuhan after a canceled flight two months ago left her stranded in the southern city of Guangzhou.
Elsewhere in China, scores of travelers lined up at train stations to board high-speed services back to the city. Passengers in Shanghai had their temperatures checked by staff in goggles and masks after boarding.
Wuhan is the last area of Hubei Province to see overland travel restrictions lifted, although some highways leading into the city had already reopened this week.
“It almost feels like returning to an alien land, because I haven’t been back in more than two months,” said Gao Xuesong, a worker in Wuhan’s auto industry.
Wuhan has paid a heavy price for the outbreak, with more than 50,000 people infected and more COVID-19 deaths than any other city in China — with three more reported yesterday.
More than 2,500 people were still hospitalized with the disease, including nearly 900 “severe” cases.
Wuhan initially struggled to contain the outbreak, but numbers have fallen dramatically in the past few weeks.
Official figures showed that there have been fewer than 20 new cases in Hubei in the past two weeks.
Life in the city is slowly returning to normal. Most of the subway network restarted yesterday, while some shopping centers are to open their doors next week.
Banks have reopened and bus services resumed, but residents have been warned against unnecessary travel, especially those older than 65.
A study this week found that the lockdown in Wuhan succeeded in stopping the fast-spreading virus in its tracks — but cautioned against opening up the city too soon.
Communities in the city were still blocked off yesterday.
“The sound of my suitcase wheels rolling seemed exceptionally loud,” one microblog user wrote after returning to the city.
A tattered sign dated Jan. 23 — the day Wuhan ground to a halt — hung on one shopfront, announcing the closure of all branches for a week.
More than two months later, it was still shuttered.
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