Exodus as travel curbs on Hubei lifted

People queueing to buy tickets at the railway station in Macheng, in China's central Hubei province, yesterday. Strict curbs on daily life are finally being lifted, allowing healthy people to head home and see their loved ones after weeks of separati
People queueing to buy tickets at the railway station in Macheng, in China's central Hubei province, yesterday. Strict curbs on daily life are finally being lifted, allowing healthy people to head home and see their loved ones after weeks of separation.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MACHENG (China) • Huge crowds jammed trains and buses in Hubei province yesterday as people seized their first chance to travel after two months under lockdown at the epicentre of China's coronavirus outbreak.

Strict curbs on daily life are finally being lifted, allowing healthy people to head home and see loved ones after weeks of separation.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China stood at more than 81,200, of which 47 - all imported - were detected on Tuesday. The death toll in mainland China reached 3,281 as of the end of Tuesday, up by four from the previous day.

At a railway station in the city of Macheng, long lines of people lugged suitcases in the rain as they queued for trains. Children in masks were among those waiting, while guards directed the crowds.

Footage from state news agency Xinhua showed migrant workers in Huanggang - one of the cities worst-hit by the coronavirus outbreak - queueing for long-distance coaches with bags and suitcases.

One unnamed worker said he was returning to Wenzhou in eastern Zhejiang province. "I have been at home in Hubei for more than two months," he said.

Airports in Hubei also began opening from yesterday. However, restrictions still remained in force in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, where the virus is believed to have emerged late last year at a food market.

Wuhan will allow residents to leave from April 8, and allow incoming trains to the city from this Saturday. Wuhan airport will resume domestic passenger flights starting the same day, the authorities said, but will not operate flights to and from Beijing.

Thirty highways leading into Wuhan were reopened yesterday morning, state media said, with videos showing the roads jam-packed.

To prevent a surge in imported cases, China is ramping up quarantine and screening rules for all international arrivals. Beijing has already diverted flights to other cities where passengers will be screened and quarantined.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2020, with the headline 'Exodus as travel curbs on Hubei lifted'. Print Edition | Subscribe