Chinese in centre of coronavirus outbreak welcome liberation

Li Kun released his family from Hubei Province on Wednesday, but it was a very tight thing.

The marketing director lives and works in Hangzhou, a technology center near Shanghai, and returned to his hometown of Huanggang in January for Chinese New Year when the coronavirus struck. Mr. Li, his wife, and daughter were suddenly caught in what was then perhaps the largest mass quarantine in human history, with almost all of the 60 million people in Hubei locked out -out.

With the Chinese epidemic becoming a global pandemic in recent weeks, entire countries are said to follow Hubei’s example, including Italy and India.

Mr. Li’s nightmare finally ended on Tuesday, when the Hubei Health Commission announced that it would ease travel restrictions imposed two months ago for all areas outside the provincial capital, Wuhan, which will be released on April 8.

“I decided to return to Hangzhou as soon as I heard that the traffic ban had been lifted,” he told the Financial Times. “My wife also works in Hangzhou and our employers urged us to come back as soon as possible.”

The Li family’s 10-hour drive to Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, was tense. At a checkpoint in Hubei, Mr. Li had to provide proof that he was employed in Hangzhou and his employer had reopened, as well as a letter from city officials confirming that he would be allowed to go home. him.

When Mr. Li entered Zhejiang Province, his cell phone started to ring. The Zhejiang telecommunications network had detected his mobile phone registered in Hubei and alerted the provincial, municipal and district police, who all rang to verify his travel plans. “There is no privacy, but we are used to it,” he said.

Workers at Dongfeng Honda plant in Wuhan abide by social distancing rules during a break © AFP / Getty

Other Hubei residents are relieved of the travel ban, but are happy to stay put for the time being. Wang Haoze, now at home in Xiangyang, the second city of Hubei, attends Peking University. But his college is still closed, so he hangs around at home, takes online courses, and prepares for exams for the postgraduate courses he is applying for.

“For us, relaxation gives us the feeling that we can finally move freely,” said Wang, who is concerned that people may let down their guards and cause a “second wave” of infections. “I’m still worried because, after all, the risk has not been completely eliminated. Some passers-by stopped wearing masks. ”

As in the United States, where governors and mayors have issued stay orders – some stricter than others – the seemingly uniform locking of Hubei was actually a patchwork that varied by city. Municipal governments also take different approaches to relaxation.

In terms of economic production, Xianning is one of the 10 largest cities in Hubei and has quickly recovered from the epidemic. Local authorities have been reporting a new infection for over a month.

However, the city of 3m is carefully easing its travel ban, even though around 500,000 of its inhabitants are migrant workers wishing to leave.

Anyone who wants to leave the city has to pass a test proving that it is free of coronavirus. The government will pay half the cost of the 150 Rmb ($ 21) test, but the central hospital in Xianning can only do 300 a day. Reservations on site and at other hospitals are now difficult to obtain, according to hospital staff.

“I don’t know how long I have to wait before I can take a test,” complained a resident of Xianning on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, adding that he had all the necessary certificates to enable him to return to work in the south of the country. Guangzhou city.

Other cities in Hubei allow people to come and go for days, even weeks.

Dong Gen works for an insurance company in Wuhan near the seafood market, which was linked to some of the city’s earliest cases of coronavirus. He was visiting in-laws in Xiangyang when the province-wide lockdown was launched.

“When I arrived in Xiangyang, I was afraid and I was worried,” he said. “I was afraid of carrying the virus asymptomatically.”

Dong was able to return to his hometown of Huangshi on Saturday, five days before provincial travel restrictions were partially lifted. It was through a “green code” on an application on his cell phone, which means he was in good health. One of his friends went from Xiangyang to Huangshi even earlier on March 16.

Yu Xiang, a 22-year-old construction worker, was able to travel from Yichang, near the Three Gorges Dam in western Hubei, to Wuhan on Monday. “My company has been pressing me to come back to work for the past few weeks,” he said. “I didn’t want to take risks but I have bills to pay.”

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Mr. Yu and 23 other passengers on the bus had their temperature checked, taken photos, and scanned thumb prints before boarding. He said that bus services between Yichang and Wuhan had been available for at least two weeks. “I am not sure that relaxing the travel ban will make a big difference,” he added. “Many people have been able to leave Yichang if they have a green code and their papers are in order.”

Back safely in Hangzhou, Mr. Li and his wife are happy to resume their normal lives. Their daughter goes to her kindergarten again. But their neighbors are wary.

“There is always a certain hostility towards the people of Hubei,” said Mr. Li. “My neighbors are keeping their distance because they think I may be carrying the virus. I don’t hold it against them. ”

Sun Yu and Xinning Liu in Beijing, Xueqiao Wang in Shanghai, Qianer Liu in Shenzhen, Robin Yu and Selena Li in Hong Kong and Tom Mitchell in Singapore

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