For many, a new kind of hardship is just beginning, as they enter an invasive surveillance regime with doubts about whether the virus has actually been contained
Walking through departure halls echoing with the swells of triumphant music, streams of mask-wearing people boarded planes and trains Wednesday in Wuhan, leaving the city for the first time since it was closed off to slow the spread of a deadly virus that first took root inside its limits.
April 8 marked what state media called the “unsealing of Wuhan,” an end to a 76-day lockdown. The queues of people looking to leave began before midnight, with 276 passenger trains and 111 flights set to leave the city throughout the day. At the stroke of midnight, police rolled away highway barriers, a potent image of the city breaking out of more than two months of medical imprisonment.
Hours later, long lines formed outside office buildings as employees waited to pass health screening procedures before being allowed back into their workplaces – a sign that fear of the virus continues to permeate life in the city, despite official reassurances that it has been contained, with only two new cases in the past two weeks.
The risks of a new outbreak were dramatically underscored Wednesday thousands of kilometres from Wuhan, in Suifenhe, a small northeastern city that went into lockdown after a resurgence in cases blamed on Chinese citizens arriving from Russia.
In Wuhan’s international airport, however, loudspeakers played a song that has become a cheerful virus anthem: “To the ends of the world and the edge of the Earth, if we know each other, there’s no place that can be too near or too far away.” Across the city, cheers erupted for the end of a long and painful lockdown.
”It’s a sunny day, which makes everything look more hopeful,” said Luo Sisi, a Wuhan restaurateur who owns a small chain of hot dry noodle shops. He sensed a psychological spring sweeping in, “a feeling that reminds us that we’ve finished the first phase” of the virus.
The city’s economic and social functions have “changed from ‘suspended’ to fully ‘restarted,’ ” the state-run Beijing News declared.
But for many in Wuhan, a new kind of hardship is just beginning. They have emerged from their homes into an invasive public-health surveillance regime that closely tracks people’s movements, as officials fear a second wave of the virus.
People going to work must carry formal declarations from their company. Others can leave home for just two hours at a time – and only after submitting to frequent scans of codes that record and communicate personal information with authorities.
The codes are coloured, with green allowing free passage and red meaning movement is not allowed. The colours can change quickly to reinstate lockdown measures in areas where the virus re-emerges.
“People have to scan their code to report their movements wherever they go,” said Guo Jing, who runs a legal advice hotline for women. “It makes me feel like I am living under surveillance – as if I am being supervised by someone. It’s enough to make me lose interest in going out.”