Wuhan, the city in China hardest hit by Covid-19, has emerged stronger from the ravages of the pandemic but continues to impose measures necessary to prevent future outbreaks.
AS I was boarding a high-speed train to Wuhan late last month, I overheard a passenger excitedly saying: “I can see Wuhan again, extremely happy.”
I made the trip to see how life is progressing in this city that was hardest hit by Covid-19 and was in lockdown for 76 days.
Upon arriving, I saw a bustling city where some people were walking mask-free on the streets and the tourism industry back on track.
Tourists and business travellers are gradually making their way to the provincial capital of Hubei after the lockdown was lifted on April 8 last year.
Chu River Han Street, a major commercial and shopping street, sees 200,000 visitors daily.
Today, the city of over 11 million population has regained its vigour and increased its pace for progress.
“A safe, dynamic and energetic Wuhan has come back, ” Wang Zhonglin, secretary of Wuhan Municipal Committee, announced at the promotional event “Heroic Hubei: Reform for New Glories” in Beijing early last month.
Wang pointed out the city’s GDP saw a sharp drop of 40.5% in the first quarter of last year and recorded a negative growth of minus 4.7% in 2020. But all of that is history now.
He described Wuhan as a heroic city for winning the battle against the coronavirus.
In the first quarter of this year, Wuhan ranked 10th among Chinese cities in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), recording 357.41 billion yuan (RM228.41bil), a 58.4% increase compared to the same period last year.
Its GDP in the first quarter of 2019 was 335.75 billion yuan (RM214.58bil).
The city’s tourism industry is also back on track. The Yellow Crane Tower, a must-visit destination, receives about 11,000 visitors daily, not far from the pre-pandemic period of an average 15,000 in 2019.
“We work hand in hand with local and international corporations to hold culture-based events here while launching a series of creative souvenirs to attract tourists, ” said the tower’s marketing executive Zhang Jie.
Located on a hill, this five-storey landmark commands a scenic view of the Yangtze River and was originally built in 223 AD by Sun Quan, the king of Wu Empire during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 AD to 280 AD) as a military watch post.
It then went through successive periods of destruction and reconstruction, and eventually burnt to the ground in 1884 during the Qing Dynasty.
In the 1980s, the government decided to rebuild the tower on Snake Mountain as the original site had been acquired for the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge project.
Legend has it that the tower was actually a tavern run by a person known only as Xin, who offered a cup of wine to a travelling Taoist priest one day.
To show his appreciation, the priest painted a yellow dancing crane on the wall before he left. According to the legend, the bird came alive and performed dances to entertain guests, thereby boosting business for the tavern.
A decade later, the priest returned, blew his flute to call the crane and flew away on its back. Xin then built a tower and named it after the bird.
Regarded as one of the four greatest towers of China, historians later believed that it was named after Yellow Crane Hill, its original site.
For many, Wuhan has indeed recovered from the outbreak and fear of the new coronavirus is over. But memories of the horrific experience are etched in the minds of the locals.
Recalling the nightmarish event, a Wuhan resident who asked to be known as Li said bluntly that he panicked at the earlier stage of the pandemic.
“I heard that people were dying and hospitals were full, but no one told us what was really happening, ” he said, adding that he eventually calmed down when the cause of the “mystery illness” was identified.
Pausing to draw breath as he recounted the life-changing tragedy, Li said several people whom he knew, including a close friend, died of Covid-19.
“Life can be very fragile and I treasure the precious moments with my family now and spend more time with them.
“This is one episode in my life I will never forget, ” he said.
A city official who declined to be named said he did not see his family for more than six months last year although his home was not far from the office.
“I dared not go home for fear of bringing the virus back. I asked my wife to pack a few clothes and essential items for me and leave them at the guard post, ” he recalled, adding that he put up temporarily at the office before moving to a rented house.
The official said that even though the virus has been contained, the city was still on alert and measures necessary to prevent another outbreak continue to be imposed.