China’s virus pandemic epicenter Wuhan ends 76-day lockdown

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, medical workers bow their heads during a national moment of mourning for victims of coronavirus in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Saturday, April 4, 2020. With air raid sirens wailing and flags at half-staff, China on Saturday held a three-minute nationwide moment of reflection to honor those who have died in the coronavirus outbreak, especially "martyrs" who fell while fighting what has become a global pandemic. (Cai Yang/Xinhua via AP)
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, medical workers bow their heads during a national moment of mourning for victims of coronavirus in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Saturday, April 4, 2020. With air raid sirens wailing and flags at half-staff, China on Saturday held a three-minute nationwide moment of reflection to honor those who have died in the coronavirus outbreak, especially "martyrs" who fell while fighting what has become a global pandemic. (Cai Yang/Xinhua via AP) (Xinhua)

WUHAN – After 11 weeks of lockdown, people went outdoors and by the thousands boarded the first trains and planes leaving Wuhan as the last restrictions on movement were lifted Wednesday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic began.

Wuhan's unprecedented lockdown was a model for countries trying to stop the coronavirus. With the restrictions ending, Hubei's provincial capital begins another experiment: resuming business and ordinary life while preventing more illnesses.

The city's 11 million residents are now permitted to leave without special authorization 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.

The occasion was marked with a light show on either side of the broad Yangtze River, with skyscrapers and bridges radiating animated images of health workers aiding patients, along with one displaying the words “heroic city," a title bestowed on Wuhan by president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. Along the embankments and bridges, citizens waved flags, chanted “Wuhan, let’s go!” and sang a capella renditions of China’s national anthem.

“I haven’t been outside for more than 70 days,” said an emotional Tong Zhengkun, who was watching the display from a bridge. Residents in his apartment complex had contracted the virus, so the entire building was shut down. He couldn't go out even to buy groceries, which neighborhood workers brought to his door.

“Being indoors for so long drove me crazy,” he said.

It didn't take long for traffic to begin moving swiftly through the reopened bridges, tunnels and highway toll booths, while hundreds waited for the first trains and flights out of the city, many hoping to return to jobs elsewhere. Nearly 1,000 vehicles went through a busy highway toll booth at Wuhan’s border between midnight — when barricades were lifted — and 7 a.m, according to Yan Xiangsheng, a district police chief.

Within hours of the lockdown ending, roughly 65,000 people had left the city by train and plane alone, according to local media.