Rise in imported cases sparks worry of resurgence of coronavirus in Wuhan: The Chinese city during and after lockdown
Just when China was showing signs of recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, a renewed threat of imported cases and recurrence has raised its head in the country's Wuhan province, where the pandemic reportedly first started out.
It had just been a week since restriction on movements were eased a little in Wuhan, when China started reporting a significant number of imported cases, sparking fear of a second wave of COVID-19.
A complete lockdown was imposed in Wuhan, a city with 11 million people, on 23 January, when the deaths reached 26 and the number of confirmed cases was at 830. Public transport, including bus, ferry and subway, were suspended, CNBC reported. The airport and train station in Wuhan were also temporarily closed.
During the 76-day lockdown, Wuhan residents were allowed to step out of their homes only to buy food or to attend to other necessary tasks. Some were allowed to leave the city, but only if they had paperwork showing they were not a health risk and a letter attesting to where they were going and why, The Associated Press reported. Even then, authorities could turn a person back on a technicality such as missing a stamp.
People were allowed out to shop for food but by mid-February, nobody was allowed to leave their residential compounds, according to BBC. Public facilities, including gyms and exhibition centres, were converted into 16 temporary hospitals that helped quarantine patients with mild symptoms. At the peak of the first wave of the epidemic on 12 February, there were over 15,000 new cases.
Residents of other parts of Hubei were only allowed to leave the province starting around late March, as long as they could provide a clean bill of health.
Lifting of lockdown
In anticipation of the lockdown’s lifting, SWAT teams and staff in white hazmat suits patrolled outside the Hankou railway station, tickets for trains out of Wuhan were advertised on billboards and loudspeakers announced pandemic control measures, The Associated Press reported. Measures were also being instituted to get businesses back on track, including $2.8 billion in preferential loans, according to the city government.
A day after government figures reported no new cases, the 76-day lockdown was lifted on 8 April. Bridges, tunnels and highway toll booths were opened and flight and train operations resumed. Residents were permitted to travel to other parts of China without special authorisation as long as a mandatory smartphone application powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance showed they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with any confirmed case.
Measures like wearing masks, temperature checks and limiting access to residential communities, however, remained in place in the capital of the Hubei province.
Restrictions placed in province bordering Russia
The daily toll started rising after hitting a low on 12 March. By 8 April, as many as 25 imported cases in Heilongjiang, which shares a land border with Russia, were reported. Suifenhe City in Heilongjiang restricted the movement of its citizens on the day the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan. Residents were to stay in their residential compounds and one person from a family could go out once every three days to buy necessities, state-run CCTV said, according to Reuters. By Sunday, 108 new coronavirus cases were reported in mainland China, up from 99 a day earlier, marking the highest daily tally since 5 March. Imported cases accounted for a record 98, half of them Chinese nationals returning from through border crossings from Russia into Heilongjiang province.
As of Tuesday, China had reported 82,249 coronavirus cases and 3,341 deaths. There were no deaths in the past 24 hours.
Key takeaways from Wuhan lockdown
Wearing masks and mandatory isolation of people with mild symptoms in special centres instead of their homes are essential to contain the spread of the virus, Wang Xinghuan, the head of the Wuhan Leishenshan (Thunder God Mountain) Hospital, involved in handling the coronavirus crisis, told PTI. He also said that patients with mild symptoms should go to quarantine centres to avoid spreading the infection to family members.
The government’s early missteps, including a delay to alert the people about coronavirus, point to the importance of timeliness of measures to be taken during an outbreak. Ho-Fung Hung, a lecturer in political economy at Johns Hopkins University said that told The Guardian, “People can’t easily forget the government’s early missteps in causing the crisis, particularly for those who lost their loved ones or have their health severely impaired.”
Even as the number of confirmed cases in India near the 9,000-mark, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced the extension of the nationwide lockdown till 3 May.
With inputs from agencies
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