A staff member removes barricades near an expressway toll station in northern Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 8, 2020. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu)
by Xinhua writers Yao Yuan, Wang Zuokui, Yue Wenwan, Xuan Liqi and Cheng Lu
WUHAN, April 8 (Xinhua) -- With long lines of cars streaming through expressway tollgates and masked passengers boarding trains, the megacity of Wuhan in central China lifted outbound travel restrictions on Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown, imposed to stem the COVID-19 outbreak.
The day was marked with much sentiment after Wuhan turned the tide against the aggressive virus, which has infected over 50,000 people and killed 2,572 in the city, accounting for over half of the national total.
In front of the Fuhe tollgate in northern Wuhan, workers shouted countdowns as they pulled aside barricades at midnight and drivers, lining up more than 1 km, honked their horns in unison as they rushed through.
Guo Lei, who ran a business in Wuhan, drove his car with six others aboard to the toll gate at around 8:40 p.m. and waited for a homebound trip.
"I can't wait to return to my hometown," said Guo, a native of east China's Shandong Province who has lived in Wuhan for eight years. During the Spring Festival holiday, his relatives came to the city to help deliver goods and were all stranded there due to the epidemic.
"Of course it was difficult, with such a big family trapped here. The local government helped solved some of our problems and luckily all of us made it through," he said. "I trust Wuhan will become a better place after getting through this trying time."
Big data from Wuhan traffic police forecasted the expressways would see a peak of outbound vehicles on Wednesday.
"I'm very happy to see the lockdown was lifted. The reopening of outbound traffic means that the epidemic situation has improved, and our hard work over the past two months has paid off," said Fang Jing, a staff member at an expressway toll station in Wuhan.
"We still need to protect ourselves from the virus and remind passengers to pay attention to personal health since the epidemic is not yet over," Fang added.
TRAIN STATION "UNSEALED"
At Wuchang Railway Station, a total of 442 passengers jumped on the train K81, which departed shortly after midnight for Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province.
More than 55,000 passengers are expected to leave Wuhan by train on Wednesday, and about 40 percent of them are going to the Pearl River Delta region, a manufacturing heartland in southern China. A total of 276 passenger trains will leave Wuhan for Shanghai, Shenzhen and other cities.
Railway authorities have required passengers to present health codes and have their temperatures checked when entering the stations and wear masks to reduce the risks of infection. Workers disinfected trains, the entrances and exits, waiting halls and platforms of the railway stations in advance.
"We have carried out daily maintenance and disinfection of bullet trains in the past two months to prepare for the day when we resume operation," said an employee of China Railway Wuhan Bureau Group Co., Ltd.
The company manages a bullet train "parking lot," where more than 100 electric multiple units have been parked since the city was sealed off. Before the lockdown, the site in the busy transportation hub sheltered only one or two bullet trains in the daytime, according to the employee.
At 5:53 a.m., the high-speed train G431 sounded its horn and pulled out of the parking lot toward the Wuhan Railway Station. It later departed from the station at 7:06 a.m. as the first high-speed train to leave Wuhan for other provincial regions since the lockdown is lifted.
An hour before the train's departure, the station held a ceremony to tear off a seal from one entrance gate and present bouquets to three passengers. Goggle-wearing stewards conducted disinfection inside the G431 train before 337 passengers streamed into the coaches wearing a motley of protective gear from transparent head shields to colorful disposable raincoats.
"It (boarding a train) is much simpler than I expected: Except presenting my health codes and having my temperature checked, it is the same as boarding a train before the outbreak," said Guan Tao, a Wuhan businessman and passenger of the G431 train.
"After being confined to my residential community for over two months, it feels so good to go on a trip," said Guan, who was heading to Changsha on a business trip.
The train station said a cap has been imposed on the number of ticket buyers to reserve empty seats and space out passengers.
SOBBING FLIGHT ATTENDANT
Wuhan Tianhe International Airport started resuming domestic passenger flights early Wednesday. The airport is expected to see more than 200 inbound and outbound flights Wednesday, according to the airport.
"The crew will wear goggles, masks and gloves throughout the flight," said Guo Binxue, chief attendant of the flight MU2527, the first flight that departed from Wuhan at 7:22 a.m. since the city's lockdown was lifted. "It will be very smooth because we have made much preparation for this flight."
Guo said flight attendants would provide masks for passengers if they had fever, cough and other symptoms, and record their personal information and contact history within 14 days.
In a video clip that circulated online, a flight attendant on flight MU2527 sobbed when broadcasting a welcoming message: "We had a very special 76 days and we are grateful. Thank you, people from across China, for fighting together with Wuhan."
Among the passengers at the airport was Liu Xia, a tourist from northwestern Qinghai Province who had been stranded in the city since the lockdown.
"I spent all my money in a family inn and had to scrimp by with instant noodles until local police officers helped me out. They found me a place that offered free food and accommodation for stranded people and even drove me to the airport today," she said.
On Jan. 23, Wuhan declared unprecedented traffic restrictions, including suspending the city's public transport and all outbound flights and trains, in an attempt to contain the epidemic.
The city is now on a steady recovery from the virus outbreak, with its public transportation partly resumed, and visibly more pedestrians and vehicles on the roads. On Tuesday, no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in the city for a fourth consecutive day.