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Tens of thousands leave Wuhan as two-month-plus lockdown due to Covid-19 outbreak lifts: Special report


Tens of thousands of people left Wuhan by rail and air yesterday, the first day major transport links reopened in the city after a major lockdown to contain a coronavirus outbreak was lifted at midnight.

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The city of 11 million people was closed off, with no one allowed to leave, on Jan 23 after the virus, which first surfaced in the central Chinese city late last year, had spread quickly.

Most of the nearly 82,000 confirmed infections and 3,331 deaths in China were in Wuhan.

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An estimated 55,000 were expected to leave the city by rail yesterday, many of them going back to work elsewhere across China, officials said. About 21,000 would leave from Hankou, the city's oldest railway station a stone's throw away from the Huanan Seafood Market, which was an early focal point of infections.

At 6am, dozens were waiting patiently to board the first train out of Wuhan - a high-speed rail to Jingzhou, about 200km away.

Many were holding gift packs containing masks that had been given out by station management, who also arranged for staff to stand at the platform holding up red signs that read "Hankou Station welcomes you".

In a sign that life has yet to return entirely to normal, everyone sported a mask and at least a dozen were clad in the white full-body protective suits that have become a familiar sight in the city.

"I'm just very happy that we can finally leave, it's been too long," said a man who gave his name only as Mr Zheng, anxiously eyeing the line to board.

He had arrived two hours early, having asked a friend to drive him as public transport was not yet running at that hour.

At exactly 6.25am, D9301 pulled out of Hankou, travelling westward with about 60 passengers.

Along with railways, major highways and the city's Tianhe International Airport have reopened while taxis are allowed to ply the roads again.

Public transport has been operational for some time but requires passengers to have a green "health code" to be allowed on board. This is a phone app that tracks one's activity and self-reported temperatures as proof of health.

The airport was a hive of activity. The first flight, at 7.25am, flew to Hainan's Sanya city with 49 people on board. By about 9am, hundreds had streamed to the airport where a positive health code was also required for entry.

Travellers had to show the same code before they were allowed to approach the check-in counter, and once more at the boarding gate.

Airport officials said 96 flights were scheduled to take off from Wuhan yesterday alone, with 11,855 travellers expected to come through the airport.

It was a far cry from the 600 flights and more than 80,000 travellers during normal times, but the airport is working to get operations back on track.

As of now, there are no direct flights to Beijing or on international routes.

Dressed in full-body personal protective equipment, with one in kids' size on her three-year-old son, a woman going back home to Chongqing told The Straits Times that it all felt "surreal".

"We've been stuck at home for more than two months so while it's nice to come out, it doesn't feel real," she said.

At the riverside Hanjie shopping area yesterday afternoon, scores of people milled around enjoying the pleasant 24 deg C spring weather while browsing international brands like Levi's, Nike and Uniqlo.

But as with the airport, shoppers had to scan a QR code as proof of health and have their temperatures taken before they could enter the outdoor plaza. An amphitheatre and a mega cineplex remained closed, while restaurants were still take-out only.

Published : April 09, 2020

By : Elizabeth Law, China Correspondent In Wuhan The Straits Times/ANN