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

The city where the pandemic started is returning to normal with no new cases reported.

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Travellers wearing face masks and suits to protect against the spread of new coronavirus walk past people holding a celebratory banner at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport i(Ng Han Guan/AP)

Travellers wearing face masks and suits to protect against the spread of new coronavirus walk past people holding a celebratory banner at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport i(Ng Han Guan/AP)

Travellers wearing face masks and suits to protect against the spread of new coronavirus walk past people holding a celebratory banner at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport i(Ng Han Guan/AP)

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.

“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.

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A man wears a shirt reading “Let’s go China, Let’s go Wuhan” (Ng Han Guan/AP)

A man wears a shirt reading “Let’s go China, Let’s go Wuhan” (Ng Han Guan/AP)

AP/PA Images

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.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(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.

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

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

AP/PA Images

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.

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Residents enjoy a quiet moment along the Yangtze River in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Residents enjoy a quiet moment along the Yangtze River in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province (Ng Han Guan/AP)

AP/PA Images

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.

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

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

AP/PA Images

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.

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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)

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)

AP/PA Images

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.

PA