Trains and coaches taken by storm, traffic jams on the roads: after two months of closure due to coronavirus, the Chinese province of Hubei (center) began Wednesday to open its doors.
In front of Macheng station, a city of 800,000 inhabitants, a crowd accompanied by children queued in the rain to buy a ticket and leave the province, de facto cut off from the rest of the country since the end of January.
The local authorities did not allow an AFP team arriving on the scene to leave the station to interview travelers.
The Chinese government announced on Tuesday that travel restrictions would be lifted under certain conditions from midnight (4:00 p.m. GMT) for all of Hubei, except for its capital, Wuhan, where the new coronavirus appeared late. 2019, before spreading worldwide.
The city’s quarantine of 11 million inhabitants will not be lifted until April 8.
The province, which has more than 50 million inhabitants, was by far the most affected by the epidemic which killed nearly 3,300 people in China, out of more than 80,000 cases of contamination.
The closure of the province occurred just before the long break of the Chinese New Year, when millions of migrant workers, employed in major cities in the east or south of the country, had returned to their home province.
– ‘Stuck up’ –
As a result, thousands of migrants are desperately waiting to be able to return to their workplaces, on which their families depend for their livelihood.
In Huanggang, a city of 7 million inhabitants among the most affected by the epidemic, workers carrying luggage waited to be able to board coaches leaving the province, according to images broadcast by the agency Chine nouvelle.
An unidentified worker told the official news agency that he was returning to Wenzhou, a coastal city in the east of the country.
“I have been stuck at home here in Hubei for two months,” he said.
In addition to long-distance rail and road transportation, three provincial airports were scheduled to reopen on Wednesday, but Wuhan was not.
Authorities said only healthy people could travel – which must be certified electronically by a green QR code saved on their phones.
Trains should be allowed to drop passengers off in Wuhan this Saturday.
If it is still forbidden to leave the city, about thirty access roads leading to Wuhan were reopened Wednesday to motorists with a green code, according to Chinese media, who broadcast images of long traffic jams on the roads .
Some residents prevented for two months from returning to the province were able to do so on Wednesday morning.
– Long absence –
A teacher named Guo Wei told AFP that she bought the first available train ticket she could find in Beijing before going to Macheng station.
It is the first time since the quarantine of the province that it returns on the spot.
“It was very hard,” she said.
Across the country, no new cases of contamination of local origin have been detected in the past 24 hours, but 47 cases “imported” from abroad have been identified, bringing the total to 474.
Four more deaths have been reported, including three in Hubei.
Contagion has dropped considerably in the past month in China, to the point that the country has lagged behind Italy in terms of death toll.
This fears a second wave of contamination in China by imported cases. Many cities have strict rules for quarantining new arrivals.
This is the case of Beijing, which continues to require a 14-day quarantine for all visitors from abroad or from another province. People from Hubei remain completely prohibited from entering the capital.