Days after lockdown easing, Wuhan traffic has failed to get in a jam

China Correspondent Elizabeth Law is in Wuhan to report on the city coming out of a two-month-long lockdown as it battled the coronavirus outbreak.

Traffic is seen on a road in front of Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan on April 9, 2020.
Traffic is seen on a road in front of Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan on April 9, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

WUHAN - The night I arrived just before the city's lockdown was lifted, Wuhan's streets were mostly empty.

The occasional car passed by, but for most of the way, it was just the two cars in our convoy.

State TV had shown images of cars queueing up at a toll booth, their drivers vying to be among the first to leave the moment the city reopened. But by the time we visited the next day, some eight hours later, the queues were gone, replaced by a stream of vehicles.

That first day, the streets still seemed fairly empty.

As the days went by, more cars started returning, but traffic is still a far cry from normal. Even pedestrian traffic is sparse.

On the first day of the city's reopening last Wednesday (April 8), I went to Han Street shopping district, a riverside open air shopping street with international high street brands like Nike, Uniqlo and H&M, with dozens more with local offerings.

Hundreds were out and about, but most kept a distance except in a snaking queue - sans safe distancing - at a skewers shop.

When I returned last Saturday, it seemed that the novelty of being out had worn off and most of the street was largely deserted. But it could also be the sudden drop in temperature that kept people home - no one wants to get a cold, much less a fever in these times.

Unfortunately, I cannot get on public transport because foreigners cannot sign up for a Hubei "health code" - a specialised application on your phone to show you're healthy, and a prerequisite to ride the metro.


A man riding a kick scooter through an intersection in Wuhan on March 3, 2020 (top), and a delivery worker riding his vehicle past traffic at the intersection on April 9, 2020. PHOTOS: REUTERS

Like in many other major cities, traffic jams in Wuhan are inevitable.

 
 
 

But in the past five days, I have not encountered one jam.

Speaking to a taxi driver, I asked what it's been like returning to these emptier streets.

"I can't recognise it," Mr Zhang said. "Just now, I took a wrong turn and needed to use a GPS to find my way."

As we took the Second Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge, the murky waters of China's longest river rushing below, someone tried to cut Mr Zhang off as he suddenly changed lanes.

He sounded the horn and seemed tempted to embark on a car chase when he suddenly burst out in a throaty laugh.

"See this behaviour? Wuhan is back."