China Opens Wuhan But Coronavirus Concerns Haven't Gone Away

Apr 8, 2020
Originally published on April 8, 2020 12:58 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Seventy-six days ago, the Chinese city of Wuhan was placed under lockdown. Today, that city where the pandemic began is finally seeing that maybe there is a way out of all of this. The lockdown order in the city has ended. The government says it has the outbreak under control and so it is letting people leave the city. NPR's Emily Feng is in Wuhan. She's been watching all of this. Hi, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: What does it feel like there?

FENG: There is definitely excitement in the air. This is the first time that I've been in the city since the outbreak began. And so it was really heartening for me to see people starting to feel hope again. We woke up at dawn to visit some of Wuhan's transport hubs. And for the first time in more than two months, there were taxis on the road. Taxi services had been canceled until now. Travelers with suitcases were lining up, ready to get their temperatures taken and their health history examined so that they could get on a train or a plane and leave.

The city here says that 55,000 people bought train tickets to leave. And tens of thousands of more left today by car and plane. Though, I should add that no planes have been cleared to fly to Beijing, which is not under lockdown but has very, very strict travel rules now. That's still about half the normal pre-outbreak number of trains and planes that are running today. And transport officials say they're only allowing three-fourth capacity on planes and putting train passengers one seat apart from one another. But people were still really excited to leave.

GREENE: Yeah, I can imagine. I think I speak for so many people around the world who want to get to a point where we're seeing things move in that direction. I mean, how are people feeling? How are they reacting to this moment and the relief?

FENG: I mentioned that it was celebratory and people are excited. But a lot of people were experiencing a mixed moment of emotions. They felt bittersweet about today. They'd spent two months seeing death all around them and not knowing what the future would hold. I spoke to one man in the Wuhan airport, Li Ho (ph). And he spoke to this emotional trauma of being trapped in a city for so long.

LI HO: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He said, "I am a little excited. But the people of Wuhan suffered so much. So many people died. And we had to stay inside for so long. When you're trapped in your house for so long, you really go crazy." And he said, "I understand now why dogs need to go for a walk every day because you will lose your mind." All Wuhan residents told us this lockdown lifting is just the beginning of this long recovery process of getting over that emotional trauma and getting the economy started again.

GREENE: Well, Emily, we - from experts, we hear so many warnings about if you ease things too soon, you know, this virus could come back. Are authorities in China really sure that they have this outbreak under control there?

FENG: For the last month, China has been reporting very few new cases of domestic transmissions in China. Instead, all the new cases so far have been travelers coming back to the country. But there is a lot of reasons to doubt the accuracy of these numbers. For one, Chinese test kits return a lot of false negatives. No. 2, many people say they've had family members who likely died of COVID before they could get tested, so they're not in the official stats.

And most recently, there's been a lot of growing concern about the rise of what are called asymptomatic cases, so people who carry the virus, can be infectious but show no symptoms, so there's no reason for them to get tested. Earlier this month, one Wuhan health worker said there could be up to 20,000 such cases in the city.

GREENE: So that means that people traveling from Wuhan could, in theory, carry their infection elsewhere?

FENG: Yeah. Most people today who left the city did not need to get tested. So they could be carrying the virus with them across China now.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Emily Feng reporting from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the lockdown has ended after 76 days. Emily, thank you so much.

FENG: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.