Wuhan lockdown: A year of China’s fight against the Covid pandemic

A year ago on 23 January 2020 the world saw its first coronavirus lockdown come into force in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the pandemic is believed to have started.

At the time, the wider world was shocked by the harsh restrictions and rigid enforcement. From late January until June, the city was effectively sealed off from the rest of the country.

But even though it came at a significant cost, it proved to be a highly successful method of tackling the virus.

One year on, China is often held up as one of the virus success stories – not least by Beijing itself. So how exactly did China get from lockdown to here – and how has Beijing controlled its own story?

How did China tackle the outbreak?

Authorities were slow to react to initial reports of a mystery illness circulating at a wet market in Wuhan in late 2019, allowing millions of the city’s residents to move around the country in the days leading up to Chinese New Year, a traditional high-travel period, in January 2020.

Earlier this week, an interim report by an independent panel appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) criticised China’s initial response, saying that “public health measures could have been applied more forcefully”.

But once China finally recognised there was a problem, authorities cracked down hard.

On January 23, two days before the country celebrated Chinese New Year, the streets of Wuhan fell silent: some 11 million people were put under tight quarantine, and face masks and social distancing became mandatory.

With medical capacities overwhelmed, authorities surprised the world as they managed to set up entire field hospitals within days.
But even so, residents like Wenjun Wang were scared. She told the BBC at the time how her uncle had already died, and her parents were sick – but getting help was still all but impossible.

The methods used in Wuhan would become routinely employed in the following months as China tackled outbreaks in other major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai with immediate lockdowns and swift mass testing.

Entry into China, meanwhile, was managed by tight entry and quarantine control.

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