International

Chinese city eases lockdown but life is far from normal

Safety first: A security personnel checking the temperature of people getting into a mall in Huanggang, China.

Safety first: A security personnel checking the temperature of people getting into a mall in Huanggang, China.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Warnings remind people that the virus still poses a threat

Banners warning that playing cards together is suicide and guards yelling at crowds to separate: a Chinese city near the coronavirus (COVID-19) ground zero remains far from normal even after emerging from a two-month lockdown.

Huanggang, home to 7.5 million people, was among the worst-affected areas in Hubei, the province where the new coronavirus first emerged late last year.

Travel restrictions were loosened on Wednesday and — if healthy — people were allowed to leave Hubei, where more than 50 million people were placed under lockdown in January to prevent the spread of the virus.

‘Not safe’

But warnings were prominently displayed across Huanggang city to remind people that the virus still posed a threat. “If you don’t wear a mask, the virus will fall in love with you,” said a banner.

Restaurants re-opened — but diners weren’t allowed to eat inside. Instead, delivery drivers collected takeout orders, as a handful of customers ate at tables outside.

Nearly 3,000 people were infected and 125 died in Huanggang, which is now considered a low-risk area.

COVID-19 | Interactive map of confirmed cases in India | State Helpline numbers

Like other regions in the province, people can travel in and out of the city if they have a “green” health status on a special phone app.

But despite the easing of restrictions, Huanggang is still on edge, and officials repeatedly said the situation was still “not safe”.

A closed field hospital is a testament to the vast changes the city has already gone through. The Dabieshan Medical Center was under construction when the epidemic broke out, but new walls and equipment were rapidly drafted in to make it suitable for treating infectious diseases. The final patients were discharged last week and now the empty hospital is dark and deserted. Protective equipment lay on the ground, with abandoned quilts and flasks next to beds in empty wards.

Du Zhiqiang, who is in charge of the hospital’s construction, said the power had been turned off after it was decommissioned as a COVID-19 facility.

Many Huanggang residents, however, jumped at the chance to go out.

Chen Wenjun, a 22-year-old pharmacist, ate near a street food stall with two friends. She said she was happy to finally be out, but was not letting her guard down: “Even though a lot of things have been opened, we still need to take care.”

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 6:22:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/chinese-city-eases-lockdown-but-life-is-far-from-normal/article31176320.ece

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