Vlog: Three days in Wuhan after 76 days on lockdown

Andy Boreham
Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province and home to 11 million, was forced into lockdown nearly three months ago after the novel coronavirus outbreak. Now it's open again...
Andy Boreham
Directed by Andy Boreham. Shot by Andy Boreham and Zhou Shengjie. Edited by Andy Boreham. Subtitles by Wang Xinzhou.

On January 23, Wuhan, the capital city of China’s Hubei Province, was locked down. The population of 11 million was effectively trapped with no way out, in an unprecedented move. Now that local transmission of COVID-19 has been stemmed, the city is open again.

It’s an ironic example of just how much the world has changed since January — at the time, locking down such a large city was unheard of, but now much of the world is sharing the same fate. There’s a time lag, though, and now Wuhan is open to the world again. 

On April 8, transportation was allowed in and out of the city for the first time in three months, so on April 9 I got on a high-speed train to Wuhan from Shanghai to experience the reopening with my own eyes. 

When I arrived I met up with Lucie, a former colleague who has lived in Wuhan with her husband, a local, for several years now. She agreed to come out and take me for a walk around the neighborhood, one of her first times out socializing in months. 

We checked out Jianghan Road, which felt eerily like Shanghai’s famous Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall. That’s because it was closely modeled on the Shanghai version, Lucie told me. No wonder. And, much like Shanghai a month or so ago, the street is largely empty with just a scattering of shops open. 

Next up we headed to Jiangtan Park, along the Yangtze River, which was much busier than Jiang­han Road but still not at all what you’d expect from a city of 11 million. That’s because people are still not really willing to come out, Lucie explained. We still need to be really careful, she said through her thick N95 mask.

The next day I went to meet up with Héloïse Richard (Elli), an English woman who has lived in Wuhan for nearly five years and stayed during the whole lockdown. She, too, was coming out for one of the first times in months. She was on her way to the salon to get a much-needed haircut and treatment. She was excited. 

If it wasn’t for her two rescue dogs, Elli says she probably would have left Wuhan when she had a chance. Her dogs needed her, though, so she stayed behind and battled it out for 76 days. 

“I really sympathize with people that were completely on their own,” she told me. “(My dogs have) kept me really grounded and really ... comforted in a really difficult time.”

Pretty soon we arrived at her hair salon — the front door was bolted shut and we had to give them a call to figure out how she can get in. The back door, past the security and health checkpoint. I wasn’t allowed to enter — Wuhan, while technically open, still has vast and strict measures in place. I said goodbye to Elli — I could tell, like millions of others, she was eager to get in and pamper herself.

With restaurants in Wuhan still not allowed to accept eat-in guests, the only way for me to experience some famous local food was to order online. I went for Wuhan hot dry noodles, a famous noodle dish with pickled vegetables, sesame paste and beef. I have to admit that, by the time it arrived at my hotel, it was no longer hot, but it still tasted pretty good and I’m looking forward to trying it again next time I visit.

On the third day, I only had time to visit one place before catching my high-speed train back to Shanghai. I chose Huanghe Lou — the Yellow Crane Tower — because of its history and beauty. It’s still closed, like all cultural venues in Wuhan, but there are some parts you can see from the street below.

The tower, originally built in AD 223 during the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280), has been destroyed and rebuilt at least seven times. But it always manages to come back as strong as ever, and remains an iconic symbol of this resilient city.

Likewise, I’m sure Wuhan will bounce back from these tough and troubling times. 

People are definitely not as keen as I thought they would be to burst out of their homes with bells on as soon as the lockdown is lifted. I suspect they’re probably still shell-shocked over it all. Instead of diving into the deep end, they’re slowly dipping their toes in the water to see if the temperature is right. For many people, it’s not just yet.

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