Wuhan hovers between hope and fear as shops slowly open

By Jesus Centeno

Wuhan, China, Mar 30 (efe-epa).- Markets and small businesses are some of the few places that have opened in a Wuhan, as the city at the heart of the global coronavirus pandemic slowly returns to normal.

Despite no official new infections being registered since 17 March, the city of 11 million continues to live with the fear an outbreak could resurface as authorities slowly ease the strict quarantine measures that have been in place for months.

“We just opened yesterday,” says the owner of a small food shop who got permission from local authorities to reopen.

The full lifting of the quarantine is expected to happen on 8 April, all being well.

Those who have not stopped working since the strict measures were rolled out are pharmacists, who cared for all kinds of patients mainly in a remote way.

“Many had nothing to do with COVID-19. They were sent to the hospital,” says Chen, a pharmacist from the Hankou neighborhood adding there were many occasions when they ran out of stock.

“Now there are more clients than before, I want to believe that we have passed the worst,” she says.

In Wuhan there have been at least 2,547 of the 3,304 officially registered coronavirus deaths in China, although residents of the city are convinced the numbers are much higher.

Radio Free Asia estimates that, given the number of daily cremations recorded in the first months of the outbreak, the number of fatalities could hover around 40,000.

“The figure is at least two or three times more than the official data,” a citizen tells Efe on condition of anonymity.

Another resident says these are “unreasonable assumptions” adding that above all “we must send a message of hope because we can overcome this situation. This has brought the Chinese closer than ever.”

The director of the Chinese National Health Commission Ma Xiaomei said on Sunday in Wuhan the time had come to restrict mobility “in a normal way” although prevention still remained “the highest priority.”

Although most stores and restaurants are still closed and only take-away orders are accepted, the Jiangan shopping district, in the heart of the city, is one of the few areas where shops have reopened.

Large stores like Apple and Huawei are preparing to receive their first customers.

“There is no openness as such. We do not know when we will return to work, we must wait for us to be authorized. Only friends, old clients come here,” an Apple shop assistant tells Efe.

Despite the fact that many people have started to venture out, many have yet to end their imposed isolation windows means the city is by not yet operating at full steam.

Near the closed Art Museum of the city, a mother and daughter walk and take pictures to celebrate the gradual return to normality.

“We live nearby, we have come to buy a cup of tea. We walk because we prefer not to use the bus, unless it is necessary. There are not many people who use it,” says Yang.

Buses and the underground have been reopened but can only be used by residents who can prove they are healthy or have a green light on a QR-based health code system by Alipay.

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