Wuhan: Epicentre of Covid outbreak marks year since lockdown

A notice was sent to smartphones across the city at 2am last year, telling them to stay at home in a move which would last 76 days. Credit: AP

Today marks a year ago since Wuhan - the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak - went into lockdown.

A notice was sent to smartphones across the city at 2am last year, telling them to stay at home in a move which would last 76 days.

Now, life has largely returned to normal in the central Chinese city which is home to 11 million people.

Early this Saturday, residents were seen jogging and practicing tai chi in a fog-shrouded park beside the Yangtze River.

Elsewhere, many countries are still struggling to get to grips with the virus which has so far killed more than two million people.

Residents practise tai chi in a park in Wuhan as life returns to normal a year after the Chinese city entered the world’s first lockdown Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP

Wuhan's efforts to vaccinate people have been frustrated by disarray and limited supplies in some places.

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.

Wuhan accounted for the bulk of China’s 4,635 deaths from Covid-19, a number that has mostly stayed static for months.

A seamstress wears a mask to protect from coronavirus as she sews zippers along an alleyway in Wuhan. Credit: Ap

The city has been largely free of further outbreaks since the lockdown was lifted on April 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 infected more than 98 million.

China announced another 107 cases on Saturday, taking its total 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 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.

Workers move stock near lanterns on sale for the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year in Wuhan. Credit: Ap

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.

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 florid panegyrics from officials including head of state and leader of the Communist Party Xi Jinping.

A man looks at a display about the effectiveness of face masks, as Wuhan marks a year since the 76-day lockdown Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP

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 Organisation to send a team of international experts to begin investigating the virus’s origins. They are currently undergoing two weeks of quarantine.

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 that it could have done better.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, thousands of residents were locked down on 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 40% 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.