Wuhan neighbourhood banishes memory of grim symbol of coronavirus lockdown

Now Wuhan locals are proud of their city's resurgence. PHOTO: AFP

WUHAN, CHINA (AFP) - It was the image that became a symbol of the chaos enveloping coronavirus-hit Wuhan: the body of a man lying for hours on a pavement.

The grim scene, captured a year ago by AFP, was around the corner from a hospital in the Chinese metropolis - now known as the pandemic's "ground zero".

But the corpse was left untouched until nervous and overwhelmed rescue workers carried it away.

Although the cause of his death has never been established, the unknown man lying on his back has nevertheless become the morbid illustration of a city submerged by the mysterious killer virus.

The neighbourhood where he took his last breath resembled a ghost town last year, as terrified residents were ordered to stay at home in the world's first Covid-19 lockdown.

However, now Wuhan locals are proud of their city's resurgence, and most on the bustling street - unrecognisable from 12 months ago - have no memory of the dead man.

It must be "a lie by foreign media", said fruit shop owner Yuan Shaohua, whose store is just a stone's throw from where the lifeless body lay a year ago.

Mr Yuan was able to keep open his grocery store last January through the lockdown, though most of his neighbours had to shut up shop.

The 46-year-old recalls those early days of terror when people "did not dare to leave their homes", and most traffic was banned except emergency vehicles.

On the day the man perished, the sound of ambulances carrying the sick filled the otherwise quiet roads.

AFP reporters saw at least 15 ambulances speed past close to Wuhan No. 6 Hospital - one of the main facilities housing Covid-19 patients.

Most passers-by did not stop either.

Despite being close to the hospital, the body lay on the ground for more than two hours before being carried away by emergency workers in full hazmat suits and protective gear.

State media later reported that the dead man, surnamed Xie, was not a victim of the new coronavirus, although offered no further details.

The hospital and local authorities have not responded to repeated requests for information.

Since then, new stores have opened and life has moved on. Ms Huang Shunxing set up a lottery store on the street, almost exactly at the spot where the dead man was seen.

Her furniture store on the same site was closed at the time. But Ms Huang opened her overhauled shop last summer as Wuhan's businesses re-emerged after months of lockdown.

Standing behind a display of scratch cards, she said she was "delighted" that the city has recovered.

"Business is going well," she beamed.

One of her clients, a 58-year-old surnamed Wang, told AFP the city is unrecognisable from those dark times.

"Last year, we were all locked up at home," he said, together with his wife and their 24-year-old son. But now, he says: "Wuhan is actually the safest place."

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