China has ended coronavirus lockdown measures in Wuhan – 11 weeks after it became the epicentre of what has since developed into a global crisis.
Authorities have begun allowing its 11 million residents to travel in and out of the sprawling city where the pandemic began without special authorisation.
Under new rules that came into force as of midnight on Wednesday, people are allowed to enter and leave on the condition 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 infected.
A light show on either side of the Yangtze river marked the occasion, with skyscrapers and bridges radiating animated images of health workers heeling patients.
One bears the words “heroic city”, a title bestowed on Wuhan by president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
Along the embankments and bridges, people 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.
He said his entire apartment complex was shut down when fellow residents tested positive for COVID-19, meaning he was not allowed to go out even to buy groceries – which neighbourhood workers brought to his door.
“Being indoors for so long drove me crazy,” he said.
Shortly after the new rules came into force, traffic begin moving swiftly through the newly 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.
Restrictions in the city where most of China’s coronavirus cases and deaths have occurred – which official figures put at more than 82,000 and 3,300 deaths respectively – have been gradually relaxed in recent weeks as the number of new infections fell.
The latest government figures listed no new cases on Tuesday.
Although doubts have been cast as to the veracity of China’s count, the unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and its surrounding province of Hubei have been successful enough that they have been widely replicated in countries around the world.
“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.”
Wuhan residents had been allowed out of their homes only to buy food or attend to other tasks deemed absolutely necessary during the 76-day lockdown.
Only those who had paperwork showing they were not a health risk and a letter attesting to where they were going and why were allowed to leave the city – and some of them were turned back by officials technicalities.