Despair and pride in China's Wuhan as coronavirus lockdown eases

That market is now boarded up, and an adjacent wholesale fruit centre is also closed with more than 100,000 yuan (11,411.78 pounds) worth of mangoes, melons and other fruit rotting outside.

This photo taken on 17 February 2020 shows a member of the medical staff (L) checking the body temperature of a patient who has displayed mild symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at an exhibition centre converted into a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. Picture: AFP

WUHAN - Residents of China’s Wuhan city, ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic, have mixed emotions as containment measures are lifted and the community infection rate slows to a trickle, with some praising the government and others rueing the economic costs.

The strictest curbs on movement and business were in the Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have emerged from a seafood market last year. The city of 11 million people accounts for about 60% of China’s total infections, which stood at 81,518 as of Tuesday.

That market is now boarded up, and an adjacent wholesale fruit centre is also closed with more than 100,000 yuan (11,411.78 pounds) worth of mangoes, melons and other fruit rotting outside.

A fruit trader surnamed Fang said the lockdown of the city had ruined her livelihood.

“Of course I’m scared,” she told Reuters, gesturing to the two masks she wore, one on top of the other, as she packed apples which she sells to residential compounds at wholesale prices.

“But I’ve not made any money for the last three months.”

Wuhan residents’ attitudes towards the curbs are far from aligned, with some expressing immense pride in their government while others say the help they have received has not offset the costs from the lockdown.

Some firms have resumed work and the city will start allowing people to leave on 8 April.

China has unveiled numerous measures to ease the devastating economic impact of the outbreak, and has pledged to help Wuhan get back on its feet.

Fang teared up as she described how she had planned to see her children who are back in her hometown after the Lunar New Year in January. She will be unable to return after the lockdown ends because she has to stay and sell her fruit.

“At the earliest the stock might only clear by June,” she said, declining to give her full name due to the sensitivity of the situation.

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Hu Yanfang, who was supervising the unpacking of boxes of protective equipment and food at her housing estate in Wuhan, had a different take.

The lockdown on residential compounds like hers was recently eased and she feels optimistic that the government has the crisis in hand.

“It’s much better now,” said Hu, who heads the compound’s residents committee.

Her voice cracked with emotion as she recounted how she had worked through the past two months to support her neighbours and sanitise the compound. She thanked the government for sending ample supplies of protective gear like masks.

“It makes me feel like our country is strong - just look at countries like Europe,” she said, referring to the surging infection and death numbers in countries like Italy and Spain.

“The government helped us to get these,” she said, as slabs of pork ribs arrived in the boot of a taxi. They were to be sold to residents at less than half the usual price.

Another resident, Yu Tianhong, agreed with Hu as she queued for ribs.

“This shows how the government is giving support and love to those of who stayed at home. It’s not just about the meat and the money. This makes us feel like someone is concerned about us,” she said.