Wuhan residents savour light at the end of the tunnel as Covid-19 lockdown ends

The citizens of the Chinese city where the Covid-19 crisis began have been celebrating the end of the dark days with lockdown over.

Wuhan resident Tong Zhengkun was one of millions of people enjoying a renewed sense of freedom after two months indoors on Wednesday when the restrictions were lifted.

"I haven't been outside for more than 70 days," an emotional Mr Tong said as he watched a celebratory light display from a bridge across the broad Yangtze River flowing through the city.

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Wuhan celebrates as lockdown ends
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Wuhan celebrates as lockdown ends
Medical staff from Jilin Province (in red) hug nurses from Wuhan after working together during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak during a ceremony before leaving as Tianhe Airport is reopened in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020 .Aerial photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows illuminated buildings in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Chen Min/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Cheng Min via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020 .Aerial photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows an illuminated bridge in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Cheng Min/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Cheng Min via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020 .Passengers prepare to board train K81 at Wuchang Railway Station in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 8, 2020. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Fei Maohua/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Fei Maohua via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020 .Aerial photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows cars passing an expressway toll station in western Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Shen Bohan/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Shen Bohan via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020 .Cars prepare to pass an expressway toll station in western Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 8, 2020. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Shen Bohan/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Shen Bohan via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020.A staff member removes barricades near an expressway toll station in northern Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 8, 2020. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images)
Passengers wearing protective gear walk at the Tianhe Airport after it was reopened, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
A medical staff member from Jilin Province tears up during a ceremony before leaving as Tianhe Airport is reopened in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Medical staff from Jilin Province (in red) hug nurses from Wuhan after working together during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak during a ceremony before leaving as Tianhe Airport is reopened in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
People wearing face masks arrive at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan to take one of the first trains leaving the city in China's central Hubei province early on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of relieved citizens streamed out of China's Wuhan on April 8 after authorities lifted months of lockdown at the coronavirus epicentre, offering some hope to the world despite record deaths in Europe and the United States. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP) (Photo by NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)
This aerial photo taken early on April 8, 2020 shows cars queueing at a highway toll station in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province, as they prepare to leave the city after authorities lifted a more than two-month ban on outbound travel. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan early on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This aerial photo taken early on April 8, 2020 shows cars queueing at a highway toll station in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province, as they prepare to leave the city after authorities lifted a more than two-month ban on outbound travel. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan early on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
This aerial photo taken early on April 8, 2020 shows cars queueing at a highway toll station in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province, as they prepare to leave the city after authorities lifted a more than two-month ban on outbound travel. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan early on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
A medical staff member from Jilin Province (C) cries while hugging nurses from Wuhan after working together during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan during a ceremony at the Tianhe Airport after it was reopened today, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
A train employee wearing a face mask is seen at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, on one of the first trains leaving the city from China's central Hubei province early on April 8, 2020. - Chinese authorities lifted a more than two-month ban on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
A worker wearing a protective suit waits to control the temperature of passengers at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province, early on April 8, 2020. - Chinese authorities lifted a more than two-month ban on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 7, 2020 .Passengers cheer up for Wuhan while waiting to take train K81 at Wuchang Railway Station in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, late April 7, 2020. The train K81, which started from Xi'an of northwest China's Shaanxi Province and is heading for Guangzhou in south China's Guangdong Province, made a stop to pick up 442 passengers at Wuchang Railway Station in Wuhan early Wednesday, the first one since the city lifted its outbound travel restrictions. (Photo by Fei Maohua/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Fei Maohua via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 7, 2020.Aerial photo taken on April 7, 2020 shows a night view in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 7, 2020 . Aerial photo taken on April 7, 2020 shows a night view in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 7, 2020 . Aerial photo taken on April 7, 2020 shows the illuminated Yellow Crane Tower, or Huanghelou, a landmark of the city of Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images)
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"Being indoors for so long drove me crazy."

Streets in the city of 11 million people were clogged with traffic and long queues formed at the airport, railway and bus stations as thousands streamed out of the city to return to homes and jobs elsewhere.

Yellow barriers that had blocked off some streets were gone, although the gates to residential compounds remained guarded.

Virus Outbreak China Lockdown Lifted
A man wears a shirt reading "Let's go China, Let's go Wuhan" (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Mr Tong said his apartment complex was shut down after residents were found to have contracted the virus.

Neighbourhood workers delivered groceries to his door.

Such measures will not be entirely abandoned following the end of the city's closure, which began on January 23 as the virus was raging through the city and overwhelming hospitals.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Schools are still closed, temperatures are checked when people enter buildings and masks are strongly encouraged.

City leaders say they want is to simultaneously bring back social and commercial life while avoiding a second wave of infections.

The ability to travel again is a huge relief, however, and around 65,000 were expected to depart on Wednesday by plane and train.

Virus Outbreak China Lockdown Lifted
A medical worker wears a sticker in the shape of China (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Wuhan residents are now permitted to leave without special authorisation as long as a mandatory smartphone application powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance shows they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.

It did not take long for traffic to begin moving swiftly through the reopened bridges, tunnels and highway toll booths.

Nearly 1,000 vehicles went through a busy highway toll booth at Wuhan's border between midnight, when barricades were lifted, and 7am, according to Yan Xiangsheng, a district police chief.

According to airport official Lou Guowei, the first departing flight, MU2527, left Wuhan Tianhe International Airport for Sanya, a coastal city in Hainan province known for its beaches.

Virus Outbreak Wuhan Slumber Photo Gallery
Residents enjoy a quiet moment along the Yangtze River in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province (Ng Han Guan/AP)

"The crew will wear goggles, masks, and gloves throughout the flight," chief flight attendant Guo Binxue, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

"It will be very smooth because we have made much preparation for this flight."

Xiao Yonghong had found herself stuck in Wuhan after returning to her hometown on January 17 to spend the Lunar New Year with her husband, son and parents-in-law.

"We were too excited to fall asleep last night. I was looking forward to lockdown lift very much.

"I set up an alert to remind myself. I was very happy," said Ms Xiao, who was waiting for her train outside Hankou station with her son and husband, all three of them wearing masks and gloves.

Virus Outbreak China Lockdown Lifted
Medical workers from China's Jilin Province react as they prepare to return home at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport(Ng Han Guan/AP)

At the airport, Chen Yating took personal protection a step further, wearing white coveralls, gloves, a mask and a baseball cap.

She was waiting to catch a flight to the southern business hub of Guangzhou.

"We are living in a good era," Ms Chen said.

"It is not easy to have today's achievement."

Restrictions in the city where most of China's more than 82,000 virus cases and over 3,300 deaths from Covid-19 were reported have been gradually eased as the number of new cases steadily declined.

The government reported no new cases in the city on Wednesday.

While there are questions about the veracity of China's count, the unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei have been successful enough that other countries adopted similar measures.

"The people in Wuhan paid out a lot and bore a lot mentally and psychologically," resident Zhang Xiang said.

"Wuhan people are historically famous for their strong will."

During the lockdown, Wuhan residents could leave their homes only to buy food or attend to other tasks deemed absolutely necessary.

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.

Virus Outbreak China Lockdown Lifted
Passengers wearing face mask on the first high-speed train to leave Hankou railway station after the resumption of train services in Wuhan (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Even then, authorities could turn them back on a technicality such as missing a stamp, preventing thousands from returning to their jobs outside the city.

Residents of other parts of Hubei were allowed to leave the province starting about three weeks ago, as long as they could provide a clean bill of health.

People leaving the city still face numerous hurdles at their final destinations, such as 14-day quarantines and nucleic acid tests.

Wuhan is a major centre for heavy industry, particularly cars, and while many major plants have restarted production, the small and midsize businesses that employ the most people are still suffering from both a lack of workers and demand.

Measures are being instituted to get them back on their feet, including 20 billion yuan in preferential loans, according to the city government.

The exact source of the virus remains under investigation, though many of the first Covid-19 patients were linked to an outdoor food market in the city.

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