Coronavirus: China’s Wuhan prepares for the uncertain end of COVID-19

Life is gradually returning to normal in Wuhan following the Chinese government’s decision to lift a lockdown that brought the city of 11 million to a standstill for over two months.

In January, Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, was at the center of the COVID-19 epidemic, as the virus began to spread with exponential speed to the rest of China. Authorities responded with drastic measures; cutting the city off from the world by stopping all transportation and requiring people to remain in their homes.

On April 8, the lockdown will be partially lifted, and those who are listed as healthy will be allowed to leave the city. Busses and subways in the city are already running.

As the Chinese government tries to get life back to normal in Wuhan, some people here are wondering if they can trust the authorities who have covered up information in the past. Others are finding it hard to revert back to a normal lifestyle.

Read more: Disinformation and propaganda during the coronavirus pandemic

Ben, who works in real estate and who prefers to use a pseudonym, said the last two months have felt like everything was suspended.

After spending so much time confined at home, he finds it hard to be in a crowd again. “I used to love going to movies or performances with friends on the weekends, but before the outbreak is truly over, I prefer to stay home,” Ben told DW.

His business will also likely suffer, as people are not likely to buy real estate after the city re-opens.

“I don’t expect people to be in the mood for buying property before this outbreak phases out completely,” Ben said. ” The anxiety that we have felt over the past two months is still in the air.”

Mistrust of the government

Most Wuhan residents think that although Beijing’s decision to enforce a total lockdown in Wuhan helped to contain the coronavirus, its delayed response still caused tens of thousands of people to become infected.

“I will never forget the cries from many broken families, and how the government ignored the rights of people in the very beginning,” said Eric, who lives in Wuhan with his family and prefers to use a pseudonym when speaking with the media.

Eric works as an engineer, and he said his life has changed since the lockdown. “I used to go take a walk or workout in the nearby park with my family, but since the government shut down the city, all we had to do was to stay home and stare at our phones or the television,” Eric said.

Read more: Doubts over China’s claim of beating coronavirus

Ben said that the authorities didn’t prepare for the lockdown, and Wuhan descended into total chaos after the order came into effect.

“Even though the lockdown was a necessary measure to prevent the virus from spreading further, the central government didn’t implement a mechanism to cope with people’s needs amid the outbreak, forcing many of them to try to seek help on their own,” he said.

Following the initial chaos, the Chinese government quickly built several makeshift hospitals to treat infected patients. They also brought in medical professionals from other provinces.

  • A person rides a scooter into front of Beijing'd Center for disease control, prevention and research (Imago Images/UPI Photo/S. Shaver)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Pneumonia-like virus hits Wuhan

    On December 31, 2019, China notifies the World Health Organization of a string of respiratory infections in the city of Wuhan, home to some 11 million people. The root virus is unknown and disease experts around the world begin working to identify it. The strain is traced to a seafood market in the city, which is quickly shut down. Some 40 people are initially reported to be infected.

  • Chinese medical staff carry a box outside a hospital (Reuters/Str)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    First death in China

    On January 11, China announces the first death from the coronavirus — a 61-year-old man, who had shopped at the Wuhan market, dies from complications with pneumonia. Like SARS and the common cold, scientists identified that the new virus is in the coronavirus family. It is temporarily named 2019-nCoV. Symptoms include fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia.

  • Japan warning Coronavirus (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Virus reaches neighboring countries

    In the following days, countries such as Thailand and Japan begin to report cases of infections in people who had visited the same Wuhan market. In China, a second fatality is confirmed in the city. By January 20, three people have died in China and more than 200 are infected.

  • Chinese workers rush to build a hospital in Wuhan to deal with the coronavirus outbreak (AFP/STR)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Millions under lockdown

    China places Wuhan on quarantine on January 23 in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. Transportation is suspended and workers attempt to quickly build a new hospital to treat infected patients, which total over 830 by January 24, as the death toll climbs to 26. Officials eventually extend the lockdown to 13 other cities, affecting at least 36 million people.

  • People wearing masks wait in the railway station in Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak occured (Getty Images/X. Chu)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    A global health emergency?

    More and more cases are confirmed outside of China, including in South Korea, the US, Nepal, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. As the number of infections rises, the World Health Organization on January 23 determines that it’s “too early” to declare a global public health emergency.

  • French hospital (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Mortagne)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Coronavirus reaches Europe

    On January 24, French authorities confirm three cases of the new coronavirus within its borders, marking the disease’s first appearance in Europe. Hours later, Australia confirms four people have been infected with the respiratory virus.

  • The hospital in Munich where the first case of German coronavirus is being held in quarantine

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    First cases confirmed in Germany

    On January 27, Germany announces its first known case of the virus — a 33-year-old in Bavaria who contracted it during a workplace training with a visiting Chinese colleague. He is put under quarantine and observation at a Munich hospital. The following day, three of his colleagues are confirmed infected. The death toll in China reaches 132, with around 6,000 infected worldwide.

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the WHO

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    WHO declares global health emergency

    On January 30, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) declares coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern in a bid to protect countries with “weaker health systems.” However, WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus does not recommend trade and travel restrictions, saying these would be “an unnecessary disruption.”

  • People buy protective masks in the Philippines

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    First death outside China

    The first death linked to the novel coronavirus outside of China is reported in the Philippines on February 2. A 44-year-old Chinese man had traveled from Wuhan to Manila before falling ill and being taken to hospital, where he later died of pneumonia.

  • The Diamond Princess berthed in Yokohama harbor (picture-alliance/dpa/kyodo)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Bad ending to a cruise

    Also on February 3, the cruise ship Diamond Princess is quarantined off Yokohama in Japan after cases of the new coronavirus were found on board. As of February 17, the number of people infected has grown to more than 450, the largest cluster of cases outside of China. Several of the 3,700 passengers and crew onboard the ship are being or have been flown back to their home countries.

  • Tourist at the Colosseum (Reuters/R. Casilli)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Italy under quarantine

    Cases in Italy rise dramatically, with 77 deaths and thousands of confirmed cases by March 3. Many countries instigate travel restrictions to northern Italy and tourist numbers plummet. On March 8, the Italian government put the entire Lombardy region into quarantine, affecting 16 million people. March 10 sees 168 fatalities in Italy, the highest in a single day.

  • People walk in front of sign showing stock markets (picture-alliance/Jiji Press/M. Taguchi)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Economic woes

    European and US stock markets slump on March 6, leading to the worst week since the 2008 financial crisis. The effect on global business has been significant, with many companies reporting losses and the tourism industry and airlines badly hit. The EU pledge €7.5 billion ($8.4 billion) on March 10 in an investment fund to try to stop the Eurozone falling into a recession.

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    WHO declares outbreak as pandemic

    As worldwide cases top 127,000 and deaths pass 4,700, the World Health Organization designates the global outbreak as a “pandemic” on March 11. US President Donald Trump announces a travel restriction on people coming from the Schengen Zone in Europe, annoying the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announces that in Germany, 70% of the population could get the virus.

  • A screen in Madrid shots Spain'd Prime Minister speaking as he announces a state of emergency for 15 days on March 13 (picture-alliance/dpa/AAB. Akbulut)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Public life on hold in Europe

    On March 14, Spain joins Italy in imposing a near-total nationwide lockdown to prevent the virus spreading. The population of 46 million is told not to leave their homes unless for essential tasks. In France, cafés, restaurants and non-essential shops are closed as of March 15. Many public events in Germany are cancelled and schools close.

  • A stop sign and a plane approaching at the Washington National airport. picture-alliance/Photoshot)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    International travel severely restricted

    As of March 15, many countries impose strict travel bans or restrictions in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19. For example, New Zealand and Australia require all international passengers to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival in the country. The US extends a European travel ban to include the United Kingdom and Ireland.

  • Sign reminding pedestrians to keep a distance (picture-alliance/EibnerT. Hahn)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Germany imposes partial lockdown

    In a landmark televised address German Chancellor Angela Merkel announces far-reaching restrictions on everyday life on March 22, banning meetings between more than two people not from the same household outside of the workplace. The country has a surprisingly low death rate, a phenomenon attributed to a high level of testing, and a high number of intensive care beds.

  • COVID-19: Empty streets in London (picture-alliance/R. Pinney)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Virus strikes at top as UK locks down

    On March 23rd Britain becomes the latest country to impose restrictions on personal freedoms, with people only allowed to leave their homes in a limited number of circumstances. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is diagnosed with the viruson March 27, as well as heir to the throne Prince Charles on March 25. Meanwhile, there are complaints that not everyone is taking social distancing seriously.

  • New York hospital ship (picture-alliance/Photoshot/J. Fischer)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Grim milestone for the US

    On March 27 the US overtakes China in terms of the number of people infected, making it the country with the most cases of COVID-19. This came as President Donald Trump claimed that the nation would get back to work “pretty quickly.” At the same time, it emerged that more than 3 million Americans had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. New York is worst-hit, with a hospital ship sent to help out.

  • Palacia de Hielo being turned into a morgue (picture-alliance/Geisler-Fotopress)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Spain’s surging death toll

    Spain also overtakes China in the number of COVID-19 cases on March 30, as the government toughens the severity of its lockdown. All non-essential activities are halted. Only Italy has a higher death toll than Spain. Most affected is the capital, Madrid. With funeral services overwhelmed, officials turn the Palacio de Hielo ice skating rink into a temporary morgue.

    Author: Richard Connor

“The government initiated a strict community-based management system to contain the spread of the virus, said Eric. “They mobilized volunteers and local staff to conduct household check-ins through phone calls and deployed them to purchase medication and basic necessities for all families in the community. These local staff played a key role in keeping us alive during the outbreak.”

‘We don’t want any more propaganda’

As Beijing takes credit for the dropping numbers of COVID-19 cases in China, people in Wuhan still question the government’s credibility and crisis management skills. Eric said while most Chinese people grow up under the influence of Beijing’s propaganda, the coronavirus crisis has inspired some people in China to become more critical of the government’s decisions.

Read more: Coronavirus: China and responsible action

Since the beginning of March, Beijing has started to aggressively propagate its “victory” over the coronavirus outbreak within China. But to those living in Wuhan, it is more important to reflect on what causes the outbreak in the first place, instead of “celebrating” the end.

“I don’t want to hear anything about the government’s ‘great victory’ over the coronavirus, because I believe now is the time to reflect on the mistakes they’ve made over the last two and a half months and to try and determine the cause of the outbreak and establish a better disease-prevention mechanism,” said Ben in Wuhan.

People walk through a train station in Wuhan (Getty Images/AFP/STR)

Public life has slowly begun to pick up again in Wuhan

How to trust the data?

Over the last few days, data released by China’s National Health Commission showed that Hubei province has not reported any new COVID-19 cases. However, Wuhan residents question the authenticity of official data. Eric points out that in the beginning of the outbreak, local hospitals didn’t test many people with symptoms, and they died. According to him, most of these cases were not included into the official data.

“Most people in Wuhan don’t trust the official data, including those who would normally defend the government,” Eric said. “We believe the reason why Hubei province has not reported any new cases is because the government needs to legitimize its decision of restarting businesses. There is still news about new cases emerging in Wuhan, including those who are tested positive after being released from hospitals. That’s why we don’t trust the official data.”

Read more: Opinion: From US to China, lies and coronavirus pandemic

To many people in Wuhan, verification of official data is very important, because it allows them to have a clear understanding about the current state of the coronavirus outbreak.

“The official data is based on the honesty of the Chinese government, and people also need authentic information to assess existing risks,” Ben said. “What if coronavirus breaks out again in Wuhan? Possibilities like this keep many of us unsettled, even though the government is trying to push us to go back to work.”

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