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Quarantine is lifted, but caution lingers for Wuhan residents

© -/TPG via ZUMA Press/dpa

Despite the lifting of restrictions in Wuhan, the original epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, residents in the central Chinese city remain cautious as they fear infection from asymptomatic patients.

Beijing (dpa) – Wang Tianchen, a Wuhan resident and coronavirus survivor, will finally be able to go outside after a gruelling two months spent inside hospitals and isolation facilities.

But he has no interest in doing so.

"I'll continue to stay at home," Wang tells dpa over the phone from his apartment in northern Wuhan. "I have no need to go out."

The metropolis of Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus started spreading in December, lifted its travel restrictions on Wednesday after more than 10 weeks of lockdown.

The city accounted for more than 50,000 of the 80,000 officially reported coronavirus cases in China. More than 2,500 of the country's 3,300 listed Covid-19 deaths were in Wuhan.

Traffic in the city is set to return to normal. Flights are also due to resume, cars will be able to leave the city again and people can travel by train, on the condition that they are healthy and have had no recent contact with infected patients.

The resumption of normal life in the city of 11 million people is seen as an important signal for China that the worst of the crisis is over.

On Tuesday, authorities reported no new coronavirus deaths, for the first time since January 19.

Nevertheless, many Wuhan residents remain cautious, fearing a resurgence of the virus and possible encounters with asymptomatic patients.

Wang, a 45-year-old fitness coach and graphic designer, left his home on February 1 to care for his mother-in-law, who had contracted the virus. He didn't return home until April 5.

For more than 20 days, he said he slept in his car outside the hospital where his mother-in-law was being treated, while helping to take care of her during the day because she had also broken her hip.

In late February, her condition worsened, and she was put in an intensive care unit. Wang was sent to a makeshift hospital, set up inside a sports stadium, where he was diagnosed with coronavirus and spent 14 days in isolation. After that, he was quarantined for another 14 days in a different facility.

While in isolation, he learned his mother-in-law had died. He brushes off the experience, saying many others have had it even worse.

Wang expects life in Wuhan to take about another month to return to normal. But he worries about coming into contact with asymptomatic patients and has no plans to leave his home.

Sun Xiaoli, a 65-year-old retiree, is also not planning to leave her house after restrictions are lifted on Wednesday – unless she needs to handle urgent matters.

Sun says no one in her residential community has reported being ill so far. Although she believes the outbreak has been controlled, she is wary of coming into contact with asymptomatic patients.

China started reporting asymptomatic cases on April 1 amid pressure from abroad and from its own citizens. Previously, asymptomatic patients had not been included in the daily tallies even if they had tested positive. On Tuesday, the National Health Commission said it was monitoring more than 1,000 asymptomatic patients.

Zhu, a 21-year-old university student who only wanted to disclose her last name, said she also feared asymptomatic cases, though she was planning to leave her house. She looked forward to eating at restaurants and shopping for clothes.

During the lockdown, her family has relied on community-organized food purchases and online grocery shopping through the platform Hema Fresh, which is owned by Alibaba.

Sun, the retiree, says she has cooked for herself using government-subsidized vegetables and meat, which were dropped off daily at her community and delivered by volunteers to each door.

Because she couldn't go to the gym as usual, Sun looked up aerobics videos online and exercised at home thrice a day.

Sun says she watches the news and worries about how the outbreak is evolving in other countries – she has a daughter who lives abroad – and about the political spats surrounding the disease.

Wang says widespread accusations that China has under-reported the number of coronavirus infections and deaths are pointless.

"Many people have questions about the numbers," he says. "I also have questions. There will be discussions among family members. But now, I don't think it matters ... We should focus on prevention."

Wuhan's two-month lockdown won the world "a lot of time," Wang adds, but few countries took the needed precautions.

"Wuhan's lockdown was very, very necessary," he says. "It would have been better if the city had been closed a few days earlier, and worse if a few days later."

"If we could go back in time and close the city on January 1, there may not be an outbreak now, but that is impossible."

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