The Chinese authorities had sealed off Wuhan, an industrial hub of 11 million people, in late January, in a frantic attempt to limit the outbreak’s spread. At the time, many outsiders saw it as an extreme step, one that could be tried only in an authoritarian system like China’s. But as the epidemic has worsened, governments around the world have enacted a variety of stringent restrictions on their citizens’ movements.
Wuhan’s recovery could offer a window into how other places recover. Sickness and death have touched hundreds of thousands of lives. Businesses, even those that have reopened, face a wrenching road ahead, with sluggishness likely to persist. Neighborhood authorities continue to regulate people’s comings and goings, with no return to normalcy in sight.
Controls on outbound travel were officially lifted just after midnight on Wednesday in China. People can now leave after presenting to the authorities a government-sanctioned phone app that indicates, based on their home address, recent travels and medical history, whether they are a contagion risk. China’s national rail operator estimated that more than 55,000 people would leave Wuhan by train on Wednesday, according to a state-run broadcaster.
China has had 83,654 coronavirus infections since the start of the outbreak, according to official figures collated by The New York Times. At least 3,331 people nationwide have died, with most other patients recovered.
But many believe the true death toll is far higher. American intelligence officers say that because midlevel officials in Wuhan and elsewhere have lied about infection rates, testing and death counts, even Beijing does not know the full extent of China’s outbreak. Those doubts are rife in Wuhan, where officials have suppressed online discussion of fatalities and pushed for quick, quiet burials of coronavirus victims.
The Chinese Communist Party said on Tuesday that it was investigating an outspoken property tycoon who accused China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, of having mishandled the outbreak.
Party officials said the man, Ren Zhiqiang, was suspected of “serious violations of discipline and law,” a euphemism the authorities often use for corruption and other abuses of power.