A medical worker from China’s Jilin Province, in red, embraces a colleague from Wuhan as she prepares to return home at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province on Wednesday. (AP/PTI)
By K J M Varma :
TENS of thousands of people in Wuhan, the origin point and epicentre for the coronavirus pandemic, travelled out of the sprawling city on Wednesday as China lifted its 76-day lockdown that sealed off around 11 million people in the city, even as health experts warn that the threat of a rebound in infections remains far from over. Within hours of the lifting of the travel ban, tens of thousands of people wearing masks travelled out of the city as trains, domestic flights and taxis resumed operations, ending the city’s painful isolation due to COVID-19 which was first detected there in December last year.
The Government has lifted the ban on road, air and train travel for all the locals who have acquired health certificates. The easing of travel restrictions came after new infections have been drastically reduced across China, even as the number of fresh COVID-19 cases crossed 1,000 in the country and two new deaths heightened concerns of a rebound in infections.
After barricades were removed at toll gates around Wuhan at Tuesday midnight, vehicles in long lines honked horns and rushed out, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Cars queued up at expressway toll gates and passengers prepared to board trains to leave Wuhan as the megacity started lifting outbound travel restrictions, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Shortly after midnight at Wuchang Railway Station, more than 400 passengers jumped on a train heading for Guangzhou in the south, the first train that left Wuhan after the lockdown was lifted. Xinhua said there would be around 200 flights on Wednesday.
A China Eastern airlines flight to the Phoenix International Airport in Sanya, south China’s Hainan Province, was the first flight flying from Wuhan after the outbound travel restrictions were lifted on Wednesday On January 23, Wuhan declared unprecedented traffic restrictions, including suspending the city’s public transport and all outbound flights and trains. Similar restrictions were soon introduced in other areas in Hubei. For weeks, the megacity had been the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China, reporting over 50,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,500 deaths, accounting for 61 percent and 77 percent of the national total, respectively. On March 18, Wuhan reported no new infections for the first time and has since largely maintained the positive trend.
The Wuhan lockdown was lifted even as epidemiologists warned that it is not the time to completely lower the guard and ease on full-scale restrictions, considering the looming asymptomatic patients and possible rebound in infections, the official media reported. As more enterprises resume their operations, Wuhan has seen an increase of nearly 400,000 vehicles in transit in the past half month, and the number is expected to reach 1.8 million after Wednesday, according to the city’s traffic police. Over 270 passenger trains will leave Wuhan for Shanghai, Shenzhen and other cities, Xinhua report said. The railway authorities required passengers to scan health codes and have temperatures checked when entering the stations and wear masks to reduce the risks of infection.