Dylan Wong hopped onto his friend’s e-bike and took a ride around Wuhan city on Wednesday morning for some guozao, a popular name for “having breakfast” in Wuhan. “It was a wonderful morning. My friend took me out to eat some dumplings in heavy oil. It was the best breakfast in a long time,” he says over the Chinese messaging app WeChat.
After 76 days under lockdown, Wuhan city at midnight on Wednesday emerged out of what some people termed “a prison” being pushed into a complete shutdown on January 23. The capital city of Hubei province, Wuhan with a population of 11 million, is the epicenter of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) that has since spun into a pandemic and spread across the world.
Over the long-haul of the lockdown in Wuhan, the season turned going from the grips of winter to a lovely Spring day. “It was snowy cold days when the coronavirus forced everyone indoors. Today, it was a beautiful spring day, the sun was out, the sky was blue, and everyone had smiles on their faces. There was even a long queue outside a popular restaurant,” says Wong.
The lockdown was lifted in phases across the province. First, residents of Hubei from places other than Wuhan were allowed to leave, provided their health-code app showed a green code certifying they were virus-free. This was followed by the announcement that Wuhan would be unlocked on April 8. Reports suggested around 55,000 people had booked train tickets out of the city on Wednesday, apart from thousands more who were driving out to other provinces.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that railway authorities required passengers to present health codes and have their temperatures checked when entering the stations. Passengers wore masks and workers disinfected trains, the entrances and exits, waiting halls and platforms of the railway stations in advance, the report notes.
But while people leaving Wuhan rushed to get back to ‘normal’ work life elsewhere in China, there were those who were still “too afraid to go outside” within the city. “I am still at home. I am afraid to go outside,” says Cui Xiaohui, a professor at Wuhan University’s Big Data and Cloud Computing Lab. “We are still being warned that there might be asymptomatic people and the local government suggested that unless it is essential to go outside, stay home!”
Barriers remained in place in other parts of the city. “I am still working from home, I am not leaving the community where I live. Still many communities are following strict control,” says an Indian who works at a pharma-company in Wuhan.
Meanwhile, Cui’s social media is filled with friends taking walks, pictures of flowers, of people eating mian wo, a fried snack, which is a popular Wuhan breakfast. “This is very meaningful for Wuhan people. It is a very popular street vendor food for breakfast. When the city was locked down, all vendors closed and many people missed this food,” he says. People were even excited about seeing traffic jams on the Baidu Map, he laughs.
When will Cui feel confident about stepping out? “Certainly not today or tomorrow. I heard on the news that today more than 50,000 people are going to travel outside Wuhan. I am going to quarantine myself for another week. Only when I am confident that there are no new cases for a little while I will be confident to step out.”
Cui’s friend and colleague, Computer Science Professor Jin Liu, says he only returned to Wuhan over the weekend after spending the last 2 months in Xiamen in China’s southeast coast. “I went there on holiday and ended up spending the last 70-odd days,” he says. “I am not really sure I am excited to be back since as a human being I am scared of this virus because I heard that a lot of people have lost their lives.”
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported long lines of cars “streaming through expressway tollgates” “In front of the Fuhe tollgate in northern Wuhan, workers shouted countdowns as they pulled aside barricades at midnight and drivers, lining up more than 1 km, honked their horns in unison as they rushed through,” the report stated.
Dylan Wong thinks out loud: “Maybe many years later, we will think back to this day and think of it as an important day. In some ways it feels like an anniversary.”
(Sowmiya Ashok is an independent journalist based in Chennai)
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