With long lines of cars streaming through expressway toll gates and passengers boarding trains, the megacity of Wuhan in central China started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19.
At Fuhe toll gate in northern Wuhan, cars honked horns and rushed out after barricades were removed at midnight, Xinhua news agency reported. Guo Lei, who ran a business in Wuhan, drove his car with six others aboard to the toll gate at around 8:40 p.m. (local time) and waited for a homebound trip.
"I can't wait to return to my hometown,""I have lived in Wuhan for eight years. During the Spring Festival holiday, my relatives came to the city and helped me deliver goods. We were all stranded here due to the epidemic," said Guo, a native of east China's Shandong Province.
Big data from Wuhan traffic police forecasted the expressways would see a peak of outbound vehicles on Wednesday.
As work resumption picks up steam, Wuhan has seen a daily increase of nearly 400,000 vehicles on the roads in the past half month, and the number is expected to reach 1.8 million after Wednesday, according to the city's traffic police.
Traffic police will release real-time traffic information through radio stations, online social platforms, and map apps.
"I'm very happy to see the lockdown was lifted. The reopening of outbound traffic represents the epidemic situation has improved, and our hard work over the past two months has paid off," said Fang Jing, a staff member at an expressway toll station in Wuhan.
"We still need to protect ourselves from the virus and remind passengers to pay attention to personal health since the epidemic is not yet over," Fang added.
At Wuchang Railway Station, a total of 442 passengers jumped on the train K81 early Wednesday, which was heading for Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province.
More than 55,000 passengers are expected to leave Wuhan by train on Wednesday, and about 40 per cent of them are going to the Pearl River Delta region. A total of 276 passenger trains will leave Wuhan for Shanghai, Shenzhen and other cities.
The railway authorities required passengers to present health codes and have temperatures checked when entering the stations and wear masks to reduce the risks of infection.
Workers have disinfected bullet trains, the entrances and exits, waiting halls and platforms of the railway stations in advance.
"We have carried out daily maintenance and disinfection on bullet trains in the past two months to prepare for the day when we resume operation," said an employee of China Railway Wuhan Bureau Group Co., Ltd.
The company manages a bullet train "parking lot," where more than 100 electric multiple units (EMU) have been parked since the city was sealed off. Before the lockdown, the site in the busy transportation hub sheltered only one or two bullet trains in the daytime, according to the employee.
At 5:53 a.m., high-speed train G431 sounded its horn and pulled out of the parking lot toward the Wuhan Railway Station. It departed from the station at 7:06 a.m. as the first high-speed train to leave Wuhan for other provincial regions since the lockdown was lifted.
After goggle-wearing stewards conducted disinfection inside the train, over 300 passengers streamed into the 16 coaches wearing a motley of protective gear from transparent head shields to colourful disposable raincoats.
"It (boarding a train) is much simpler than I expected: Except presenting my health codes and having my temperature checked, it is the same as boarding a train before the outbreak," said Guan Tao, a Wuhan businessman and passenger of the G431 train.
"After being confined to my residential community for over two months, it feels so good to go on a trip," said Guan, who was heading to Changsha on a business trip.
The train station said a limit has been imposed on the number of ticket buyers to reserve empty seats and space out passengers.
Wuhan Tianhe International Airport started resuming domestic passenger flights early Wednesday. The airport is expected to see more than 200 inbound and outbound flights Wednesday, according to the airport.
"The crew will wear goggles, masks, and gloves throughout the flight," said Guo Binxue, chief attendant of the flight MU2527, the first flight that departed from Wuhan at 7:22 a.m. Wednesday since the city's lockdown was lifted. "It will be very smooth because we have made much preparation for this flight."
Guo said flight attendants would provide masks for passengers if they had fever, cough and other symptoms, and record their personal information and contact history within 14 days. "We have simplified the service process to better protect everyone's health," Guo added.
On January 23, Wuhan declared unprecedented traffic restrictions, including suspending the city's public transport and all outbound flights and trains, in an attempt to contain the epidemic. (ANI)