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City at centre of China's virus outbreak gradually revives

Wuhan comes back to life

Shopkeepers in the city at the centre of China's virus outbreak were reopening Monday but customers were scarce after authorities lifted more of the anti-virus controls that kept tens of millions of people at home for two months.

“I’m so excited, I want to cry,” said a woman on one of Wuhan's major shopping streets, the Chuhe Hanjie pedestrian mall, who would give only the English name Kat.

Kat said she was a teacher in the eastern city of Nanjing and was visiting her family when most access to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people and the manufacturing hub of central China, was suspended Jan. 23 to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“After two months trapped at home, I want to jump,” said Kat, jumping up and down excitedly. “I want to revenge shop.”

While other governments tighten travel and other controls, the ruling Communist Party has rolled back curbs on Wuhan and other areas as it tries to revive the world's second-largest economy after declaring victory over the outbreak.

Wuhan in Hubei province is the last city still under travel controls. Residents are allowed to go to other parts of Hubei but cannot leave the province. Restrictions on other Hubei residents were lifted March 23. The final curbs on Wuhan end April 8.

Wuhan became the centre of a massive effort to treat the sick, understand the virus and stop its spread. Two temporary hospitals with more than 1,000 beds each were built and a third one was set up in an exhibition centre. Hundreds of military doctors and nurses were dispatched to the city, along with tons of medical supplies.

On Monday, 70% to 80% of shops on the Chuhe Hanjie mall in the city centre were open but many imposed limits on how many people could enter. Shopkeepers set up dispensers for hand sanitizer and checked customers for signs of fever.

Buses and subways started to run again Saturday and the train station reopened, bringing thousands of people to the city.

At the same time, the ruling party has rolled out a massive propaganda effort to portray its leaders as the heroes of the outbreak and deflect accusations they allowed the virus to spread due to politically motivated foot-dragging.

Wuhan suffered 2,547 coronavirus deaths, accounting for about 80% of China's total fatality toll of 3,186 as of midnight Sunday, according to the National Health Commission. The country had a total of 81,470 confirmed cases.

Officials are under orders to revive manufacturing, retailing and other industries while also preventing a spike in infections as people return to work.

This week, visitors to Wuhan were required to report how they arrived and their reason for coming. Hotel guests were checked twice a day for fever. They were required to show a code on a smartphone app that tracks the user's health status and travel.

Authorities set aside five hotels to quarantine visitors including foreigners who lack Chinese identity cards. Hotel staff and volunteers in protective coveralls sprayed guests and their luggage with disinfectant.

Passengers who wanted to board a public bus had to show a smartphone health code to volunteers in red vests.

Some of Wuhan's major shopping malls reopened Monday. Others planned to reopen later in the week.



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