It’s as if a city is reclaiming its place under the sun. When the coronavirus infections started spreading rapidly in January in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, it was not yet a pandemic. The rest of the world watched from a distance, under the illusion of safety, as Wuhan was put under a lockdown.
Now, 76 days on, while the lockdown has been formally lifted in Wuhan, life is completely upended in large swathes of the world, with the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic killing more than 82,000 people and infecting some 1.45 million.
China’s central Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, was the first place to bear the brunt of the disease. Now Wuhan appears impatient to get back to normal. But it is discovering there is no going back to the pre-coronavirus days. Not yet.
Still, seeing the images coming out of Wuhan will give hope to people around the world who are confined to their homes without any clear end of the lockdown in sight.
The world was celebrating the New Year when China alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) to multiple cases of pneumonia being reported from Wuhan. What worried health authorities was that the virus behind the infection was unknown and the health of some of the patients was not improving.
A week later, on January 7, the new pathogen was identified as belonging to the family of viruses known as coronaviruses. While coronaviruses are well known to the scientific community – SARS and MERS were also coronaviruses – this was a new type without a cure or vaccine.
Four days after it was named, the novel coronavirus claimed its first victim from Wuhan – a 61-year-old man who is believed to have bought goods from the city’s famous wet market that sells a number of exotic meats.
The city’s health authorities soon realised that the virus was highly contagious – and by January 22 the death toll in in China had risen to 17, with more than 550 infected from the disease which would eventually be known as CVOID-19. On January 23, air and rail departures from Wuhan were suspended.
But the worst was yet to come.