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Is CoronaVirus Nightmare Ending?

China Daily: Wuhan reopens after 76-day lockdown

By CAO DESHENG in Wuhan | China Daily | Updated: 2020-04-08 07:04 

China Daily Wuhan reopens after 76-day lockdown
High-speed trains await the resumption of operations in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Monday. The 76-day lockdown of the city ends on Wednesday. ZHAO JUN/FOR CHINA DAILY 

People’s lives, safety, health prioritized in war on COVID-19

“If I had COVID-19, I’d want to be treated in China,” he said. “They know and they care about keeping people alive, and they do it successfully.”

Ending the lockdown of Wuhan, Hubei province, on Wednesday will become a milestone for China in securing final victory in the people’s war against the COVID-19 outbreak under the command of President Xi Jinping, observers said.

The decisive measures that the Communist Party of China Central Committee-with Xi as its general secretary-have taken to help Wuhan fight the epidemic held the key to curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus in what was the hardest-hit city, as well as in the province and in the entire country, they said.

A constant theme has been “people first” in the fight against the contagion as Xi has stressed putting people’s lives, safety and health as the top priority and placing the people’s interests above everything else.

In his meeting with World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Jan 28 in Beijing, Xi said people’s safety and their health always come first.

Recounting his experience of leading World Health Organization experts on a nine-day joint mission investigating COVID-19 in China, Canadian epidemiologist Bruce Aylward commended China’s approaches in responding to the disease.

“If I had COVID-19, I’d want to be treated in China,” he said. “They know and they care about keeping people alive, and they do it successfully.”

While masterminding the epidemic prevention and control efforts, Xi gave Hubei, particularly Wuhan, the provincial capital, priority. He said that “when Wuhan wins, Hubei wins; when Hubei wins, China wins”.

Therefore, since the start of the outbreak, the CPC Central Committee has taken the most comprehensive, thorough and rigorous measures to resolutely curb the spread of the virus in Wuhan and Hubei.

As experts recommended quarantine measures to help reduce population movement, which in turn helped to stem the spread of the virus, the CPC Central Committee made the decision on Jan 22 to ask Hubei to stop outbound travel to prevent the disease from spreading in other regions.

Xi said at a meeting in February that making such a decision demands tremendous political courage, but “time calls for resolute action, otherwise, we would be in trouble”.

On Jan 23, the authorities in Wuhan announced the lockdown of the city. All public transportation and businesses were suspended, and residents were required to stay indoors to cut transmission in neighborhoods.

Putting such a huge city with over 10 million residents under quarantine was unprecedented but has proved to be effective. During his visit to Wuhan on March 10, Xi said all prevention and control measures adopted by the CPC Central Committee focus on preventing more people from being infected and are aimed at saving more patients’ lives.

An employee instructs vehicles to leave Wuhan on April 8, 2020. [Photo by Chen Liang/Chinadaily.com.cn]
An employee instructs vehicles to leave Wuhan on April 8, 2020. [Photo by Chen Liang/Chinadaily.com.cn] 

Under Xi’s command, a central leading group on epidemic response headed by Premier Li Keqiang was established on Jan 25. Two days later, a central group led by Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan was sent to oversee work in Hubei and has been stationed there ever since.

In early February, the Party secretaries of Hubei and Wuhan were replaced in light of the problems exposed in the initial response to the outbreak.

Epidemic response was on the agenda of a series of Party leadership meetings Xi has presided over since early January, including eight meetings of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.

At the meetings, he frequently underlined the importance of adopting the approach of early detection, reporting, isolation and treatment in epidemic control, and urged redoubled efforts to improve the admission and recovery rates and to reduce the infection and mortality rates.

Helal Helal, deputy general secretary of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party of Syria, said that the great achievements China has made in the fight against the outbreak speak volumes about the people-centered philosophy embedded in traditional Chinese culture.

In a message to the recent Asian Political Parties Online Conference, the Syrian party official said what China has done constitutes a great contribution to maintaining a life with dignity for all humanity.

To leave no COVID-19 patient unattended, Wuhan built two hospitals-Huoshenshan and Leishenshan-literally from scratch in about two weeks. Each had more than 1,000 beds. It also established 16 makeshift hospitals converted from sports stadiums and exhibition halls.

A man stands at the Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan on April 7, 2020. [Photo by Chen Zhuo/Chinadaily.com.cn]
A man stands at the Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan on April 7, 2020. [Photo by Chen Zhuo/Chinadaily.com.cn] 

Chen Weiguo, president of the State-owned China Construction Third Engineering Bureau Co, said building the hospitals in such a short time sounded like a mission impossible, but his company created a miracle.

More than 34,000 employees from around China worked around the clock, and they raced against time to build the hospitals in order to get more patients treated, Chen said.

Over 340 medical teams consisting of over 42,600 medical workers from across the country, rushed to the hardest-hit city at the call of the central government. That number included at least 4,000 medical staff from the People’s Liberation Army.

Wang Xinghuan, president of Leishenshan Hospital, said 3,202 medical workers from 286 hospitals from across the country gathered in the medical facility to help treat the critically ill patients.

“We all have the same goal, saving more lives and helping more patients recover from the illness,” Wang said, adding more than 1,000 volunteers and a great number of State-owned and private companies offered their services to ensure the hospital operated well.

Nineteen provinces formed partnerships with 16 cities and counties in Hubei to help them where medical resources were overstretched, a usual practice China follows in mobilizing nationwide resources for disaster relief.

When Xi flew to Wuhan on an inspection tour on March 10, he expressed his respect for medical workers, military officers and soldiers, community workers, police officers, officials, volunteers and people from all walks of life who have been fighting the epidemic on the front line. He expressed sympathy to patients and their relatives, as well as the families of those who died of the disease and those who died on duty.

While stressing that medical treatment should be given the top priority to improve the recovery rate and reduce mortality to the greatest extent through scientific and targeted treatment, he demanded more understanding and tolerance for people in Hubei and Wuhan if some vented their frustrations after being under self-quarantine for a long time, as well as efforts to ensure the supply of their life necessities.

Chen Feng, a 75-year-old resident of Songtaoyuan community in Wuhan’s Wuchang district, said he appreciated Xi’s personal care for people’s sufferings as well as his strong leadership in the people’s war on the epidemic. “President Xi’s visit to Wuhan took place at a critical time in the fight against the virus. His visit boosted our confidence in securing victory,” Chen said.

Thanks to the stringent prevention and control measures, the situation in Wuhan keeps improving. Ma Xiaowei, minister of the National Health Commission, said at a news conference on March 31 that the domestic spread of the virus, with Wuhan being the main battlefield, has been “basically blocked” and epidemic control efforts have produced significant results.

Zhang Wenhong, director of the infectious disease department of Shanghai Huashan Hospital, told China Central Television that it is an unprecedented, remarkable achievement that a country can contain the pandemic in around two to four months. “All the nation, people and medical workers have done their utmost to curb the epidemic,” Zhang said.

The risk of imported infections remains high, so vigilance is still highly needed to prevent the disease from going viral again, he said, adding that he is confident the country will fully win the battle against the virus.


The New York Times: China Ends Wuhan Lockdown, but Normal Life Is a Distant Dream

By Raymond Zhong and Vivian Wang April 7, 2020Updated 6:00 p.m. ET

In the city where the coronavirus outbreak was first reported, the reopening of outbound travel won’t end hard times, wariness or confinement.

A park along the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China, on Monday.
A park along the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China, on Monday.Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

China on Wednesday ended its lockdown of Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus first emerged and a potent symbol in a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of people, shaken the global economy and thrown daily life into upheaval across the planet.

But the city that has reopened after more than 10 weeks is a profoundly damaged one, a place whose recovery will be watched worldwide for lessons on how populations move past pain and calamity of such staggering magnitude.

In Wuhan, sickness and death have touched hundreds of thousands of lives, imprinting them with trauma that could linger for decades. Businesses, even those that have reopened, face a wrenching road ahead, with sluggishness likely to persist. Neighborhood authorities continue to regulate people’s comings and goings, with no return to normalcy in sight.

The Chinese authorities sealed off Wuhan, an industrial hub of 11 million people, in late January, in a frantic attempt to limit the outbreak’s spread. At the time, many outsiders saw it as an extreme step, one that could be tried only in an authoritarian system like China’s. But as the epidemic has worsened, governments around the world have enacted a variety of stringent restrictions on their citizens’ movements.

Some 1.4 million infections and 80,000 deaths have been reported worldwide — figures that are rising fast, and that officials say vastly understate the true extent of the pandemic. The contagion has slowed in hard-hit countries like Italy and Spain, but it continues to spread quickly elsewhere around the globe, including in the United States, which is approaching 400,000 known infections.

News reports are filled with scenes of overflowing hospitals in New York City, uncollected bodies on streets in Ecuador, updates on the condition of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, who is hospitalized in intensive care, and expert warnings that the epidemic could be exploding, undetected, in the poorest parts of the world.

Most of Europe, India, much of the United States and many other places are under orders for businesses to close and most people to stay at home, abruptly crippling economies and throwing millions of people out of work.

The full measure of the sacrifice that such policies entail — in jobs and income lost, in lives disrupted — might first be taken in Wuhan.

Wednesday’s reopening came after only three new coronavirus cases were reported in the city in the previous three weeks, and a day after China reported no new deaths for the first time since January. Controls on outbound travel were officially lifted just after midnight in China.

People can now leave after presenting to the authorities a government-sanctioned phone app that indicates — based on their home addresses, recent travels and medical histories — whether they are contagion risks.

Footage from state-run news outlets early Wednesday showed a rush of cars traveling through toll stations on the outskirts of Wuhan immediately after the restrictions were lifted.

China’s national rail operator estimated that more than 55,000 people would leave Wuhan by train on Wednesday, according to a state-run broadcaster.

Within the city, however, tough rules on individuals and businessesare still in place to prevent the virus from regaining a foothold. Officials continue to urge everyone to stay at home as much as possible. Schools are still closed.

Many people in Wuhan do not need to be told to keep isolating themselves, to say nothing about leaving the city. The experience of death and near-death has left psychic wounds. Of mainland China’s more than 80,000 reported cases of the virus, nearly two-thirds have been in Wuhan.

“Wuhan people experienced it firsthand,” said Yan Hui, a Wuhan native and sales executive in her 50s who recovered from the coronavirus. “Their friends got sick. Their friends and friends’ relatives died. Right before their eyes, one by one, they left us.”

“Their understanding of this disaster is deeper compared to people in other cities,” she said.

Officials are still encouraging people in Wuhan to stay at home as much as possible.
Officials are still encouraging people in Wuhan to stay at home as much as possible.Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

Wuhan is already not the same metropolis where, not so long ago, the passage of time seemed to have ground to a halt.

In recent days, more shops have reopened, often setting up street-front counters so that customers can buy vegetables, alcohol, cigarettes and other goods without entering. In parks along the Yangtze River, growing numbers of families have ventured out to take in the sunshine and fresh air.

Older residents have started congregating again in small groups to chat or play rounds of Chinese chess. Children are a rarer sight, and always appear to be under the wary watch of parents.

Public buses and the subway system have restarted, although they often seem to have few passengers.

Mountains of cardboard boxes have sprouted up outside apartment complexes as online shopping picks up. According to JD.com, an e-retailer, delivery orders in Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital, increased threefold in March compared with February.

And more people are treating themselves, the company said: They have shifted from buying daily necessities and home fitness equipment to buying clothing, cosmetics and travel accessories.

Companies in Wuhan have been cautiously calling their employees back to work, contributing to the revival of city life.

Food sales over a security fence separating a residential area and a street on Tuesday.
Food sales over a security fence separating a residential area and a street on Tuesday.Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

Across Wuhan, nearly 94 percent of businesses — almost 11,000 of them in total — have resumed operations, said Hu Yabo, the city’s deputy mayor, at a recent news briefing. For major industrial enterprises, the rate exceeded 97 percent. For service companies, it was 93 percent.

It is unclear how much business they are actually doing, however. At industrial companies in Wuhan, only 60 percent of employees are on the job, and electricity consumption is one-fifth less than what it was this time last year, said Dang Zhen, another city official, at the same briefing.

Honda’s local venture is back to producing at full capacity, Mr. Hu said. Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, said on social media that employees at its Wuhan research center were eagerly returning to work “as a fresh wave of positivity pulsates around the building.”

Yet gloom about the local economy remains widespread. Much of China’s factory sector is suffering as the pandemic dampens overseas demand for exports. As businesses pull back their spending on equipment and offices, the effects will ripple through the rest of the economy.

During the whole of February, when the epidemic was at its peak in China, not a single residential real-estate deal was made in Wuhan, neither for new properties nor for ones already built, according to government statistics.

Helen Ding, 47, works at an architectural design company in the city. While her firm’s existing projects are mostly large enough that they cannot be easily canceled, her bosses are concerned about future business and future clients.

Medical workers from Shandong Province taking part in a ceremony on Monday before leaving Wuhan.
Medical workers from Shandong Province taking part in a ceremony on Monday before leaving Wuhan.Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

“The whole world is in a bad state, and as far as the future goes, nobody has much confidence,” Ms. Ding said.

For many small businesses, the loss of income could lead to further trouble. Short on cash, companies that have laid off workers may not be able to rehire them right away. Others worry about backed-up inventories of unsold goods, maintenance costs for equipment and customs disputes as the pandemic continues to snarl commerce around the world.

This month, a large group of restaurateurs in Wuhan wrote a letter to the city government pleading for rent relief, subsidized loans and wage support. The epidemic, they said, had been a “total disaster” for the industry.

At the height of the epidemic, Liu Dongzhou thought about giving up on his company, which makes fish balls, shredded chicken, and other frozen and processed foods. Now, he hopes to restart operations next week — but expects to lay off a fifth of his 80 employees.

Mr. Liu, 45, has heard much talk of government policies to help small enterprises. But he does not think any will be available to him in the short term.

Even if the authorities are allowing people to leave Wuhan, Mr. Liu said his own neighborhood had recently tightened its restrictions on residents’ movements. Wednesday does not feel like much of a milestone.

Dancing at an old residential community blocked by barriers in Wuhan on Saturday.
Dancing at an old residential community blocked by barriers in Wuhan on Saturday.Credit…Aly Song/Reuters

“To an ordinary person, if you lift or don’t lift the lockdown, there isn’t that big of a difference,” he said.

Ms. Yan, the sales executive, works in Wuhan for a unit of General Electric. Her bosses are wary of bringing too many employees back to work, fearing contagion.

“They’ll grit their teeth and carry on,” she said. “It’s such a big company, after all.”

Gritting one’s teeth and carrying on has characterized much about life in Wuhan these past months.

In February, Ms. Yan spent 15 days fighting the virus in Huoshenshan, one of the city’s newly built coronavirus hospitals. After the outbreak began, she stockpiled food in her apartment. When she got home from the hospital, all of it had gone bad.

She remains on sick leave, helping with company business when she can, but mostly resting at home. She has not seen her parents in two months, even though they live in the apartment complex next to hers.

An experience like that changes things, and for Ms. Yan it has reshuffled her priorities: Health and family first. Work, career, success — all of that second.

She has long talked about adjusting her life in that way. “But I never actually did it.”

The ordeal has also helped her see her home city in a new light.

The grass looks greener, the trees more luxuriant. There even seem to be more little songbirds in the garden outside her apartment.

“Before this epidemic, Wuhan was a city with a lot of vitality,” Ms. Yan said. “Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are already economically mature. But Wuhan has just gotten started.”

Burning paper offerings in Wuhan during the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival on Saturday.
Burning paper offerings in Wuhan during the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival on Saturday.Credit…Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Wang Yiwei and Coral Yang contributed research.

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