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Light at tunnel's end: Wuhan's cautious reawakening

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Wuhan (China) (AFP)

Cars are back on city streets and shoppers are strolling in malls again as life slowly returns to Wuhan. But the cradle of the global coronavirus pandemic remains under the shadow of the contagion.

The city of 11 million people -- along with tens of millions more throughout the rest of Hubei province -- was locked down in late January in an unprecedented and ultimately failed bid to contain the pathogen.

Hubei and its provincial capital Wuhan have accounted for the majority of China's officially reported 3,322 coronavirus deaths and 81,620 overall cases.

But with new infections now virtually nil -- according to the much-questioned Chinese government figures -- authorities have begun loosening restrictions on movement within the city and easing its isolation from the rest of the country.

As a result, Wuhan is stirring again.

AFP pictures and video, shot at the lockdown's height in late January and again this week after curbs began to ease, tell the story.

Then: eerily silent and empty streetscapes, closed shops, residents frantically stocking up on food and medicines, pervasive fear.

Now: light yet growing road traffic, commerce sputtering back to life, and citizens ready to plan for the future again.

"If we don't keep striving, what else in this world is worth striving for?" said Waiwai, owner of a small cafe which reopened Sunday but for take-out only owing to social-distancing rules.

But with China now on guard against a return wave of overseas coronavirus infections, Wuhan authorities on Friday made clear that business-as-usual would not be returning anytime soon.

A government notice said re-opening the city brings the risk of infections from beyond its perimeter and that the health crisis remained "severe".

It instructed authorities to maintain many tight controls on movement, limits on gatherings, mask-wearing and other measures, and avoid any "slackening".

"There's definitely still some risk. People entering from outside the city will probably include some cases imported from overseas," said Bian, a 26-year-old supplier of food to hotels, who declined to give his full name.

"It feels great. I've been stuck at home for so long."

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