The first known cases of the virus were detected in Wuhan in mid-December. In the weeks that followed, the number of cases soared and from January 23 to April 8, residents were unable to leave the city as the Chinese government attempted to contain the epidemic.
But despite attempts to stop the spread of the virus, it has now infected more than 2.6 million people worldwide.
In Wuhan, however, the epidemic now seems largely under control, with no new cases or deaths reported in Hubei province, according to the latest figures released Wednesday.
The streets that were cordoned off just a few weeks ago behind the police checkpoints are now open to traffic, while some public spaces such as the Wuhan Zoo are preparing to allow people to enter.
But that does not mean that people let their guard down or that all restrictions are lifted. When walking on the street, almost everyone continues to practice social distance, keeping at least 1.5 meters (five feet) away.
Many stores, including large chains such as Starbucks, have moved their products and services to the sidewalk to prevent customers from gathering inside.
Local business owner Xu, whose convenience store is located across from a Wuhan convention center, said that since it reopened in April, there have been very few customers. “The situation is not very optimistic. Even after the reopening of the companies, there are not many people. I am a little worried about this,” he said.
“I don’t know when (my business) can recover.”
To date, 68,128 cases of new coronavirus have been reported in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, killing 4,500.
A sprawling metropolis, Wuhan is one of China’s largest industrial and transportation centers, located on the banks of the Yangtze River. It has long been considered the economic engine of the central heart of the country.
The January 23 decision to effectively seal off the city and shut down all transportation links was unprecedented. Slowly, the restrictions became more stringent, ultimately prohibiting citizens from making non-essential trips out of their apartments.
Checkpoints have been set up throughout the city to prevent people from leaving their homes, except for short trips for medicines and groceries.
Some of these conditions are now familiar to millions of people around the world who have since been invited or ordered to stay at home to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
But just as Wuhan’s foreclosure has predicted the path of hundreds of cities around the world, its reopening also provides a window into the difficult path to travel.
Some stores are now open and people are returning to public places, with residents of Wuhan wearing masks going to city parks to walk around, play badminton and even get their hair cut thanks to barbers in full air.
But there is nothing of the packed bustle that once characterized Wuhan.
For each storefront open, there is another storefront closed. More than two weeks after the end of the foreclosure, restaurants are still only allowed to sell take-out while gyms remain closed.
On the streets, some citizens always go out with full protective equipment, including plastic coveralls for hazardous environments. When serving customers, some store owners not only wear face masks, but also gloves.
When they arrived at the hotel, the CNN team was forced to give their travel history and have their temperature taken, before being sprayed with disinfectant by the hotel employees. In the elevator, a handkerchief was provided to press the button.
A local driver told CNN that his car rental business has been slow to recover since restrictions on leaving the city were eased on April 8.
“I only had two passengers in two weeks,” he said, requesting that we not use his name for the sake of increasing repercussions in conversations with foreign media.
Before the epidemic, he said he drove at least a dozen passengers a day, including many foreign diplomats. But as the epidemic worsens, most countries have closed their consulates in Wuhan and evacuated their staff. None have returned yet.
“After the lockout, I spent so much time enjoying nature and the outdoors with my family,” said the driver, indicating a large hiking backpack sitting in his trunk. “We avoid the crowds in local parks. Instead, we drive further.”
Waiting for the second wave
US citizen Christopher Suzanne, who has lived in Wuhan for at least 10 years with his Chinese wife, was in the United States for the baptism of his new baby when the coronavirus struck the city.
Desperate to return to take care of his wife’s parents, the family decided to return to Wuhan on March 30, after obtaining permission from the tenant.
With her family now back in the city he considers home, Suzanne said she was happy to see the people of Wuhan on the streets and enjoy the spring sun.
“It makes me happy but I don’t want people to be complacent. We are afraid there will be a second wave,” he said.
Concerns about a so-called second wave have recently increased in China, as a surge in imported cases, particularly from Russia, has led to the country’s highest number of new infections in weeks. These fears have also been reinforced by an increase in asymptomatic cases.
China has modified its case definition for Covid-19 several times. On March 31, he decided to start reporting the number of asymptomatic cases in the country after weeks of confidentiality.
Suzanne said he thinks a second wave of infections in the city is inevitable, as people start going out again and can get involved in asymptomatic cases.
“Being able to go out was just that explosion of excitement but then you are afraid of being able to go out? Do I have to go out? Is my family okay if I go outside?” he said.
“I hope it comes back to what it was. But I don’t know if it’s okay.”
Asked about concerns that the Chinese government was withholding information on the death toll or the origin of the virus, Suzanne said that he and many other residents were more concerned with protecting themselves and their loved ones.
“Whether or not they want to share this information with the public doesn’t concern me … I really worry about my family and what we can do,” he said.
CNN’s Nectar Gan contributed to this article.