China’s coronavirus epicentre Wuhan returns to life, but economic scars run deep

China’s coronavirus epicentre Wuhan returns to life, but economic scars run deep

  • Months after Wuhan reported its last coronavirus infection, much of the city appears to have returned to normality
  • But interviews with dozens of local residents show deep psychological scars and economic damage still lingers

When Wang Dandan moved to Wuhan for a job managing a newly built hotel last summer, she could never have guessed the front seat-view she would have of the city’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

After the severity of the outbreak became clearer and authorities sealed off the central Chinese city on January 23, her hotel became the sleeping quarters for medical professionals deployed across the city.

Thanks to its proximity to two major hospitals, the hotel was soon abuzz with doctors and nurses at the epicentre of the crisis. The lobby of the hotel is still decorated with silk banners sent by visiting medical teams expressing gratitude for the hospitality.

But nearly 150 days after the city’s 11-week lockdown was lifted, the impact of the outbreak on business is still as raw as ever.

“The trauma caused by the pandemic is so deep for all of us, it is hard for anyone to avoid,” Wang told the South China Morning Post.

The hotel’s occupancy ratio has returned to about 90 per cent of last year’s level, but the room rate has dropped by 50 per cent on average to about 200 yuan (US$29) per night, Wang said.

“Profit is very thin … we are still trying to make up for losses,” she said. “The landlord has urged us many times to pay the rent but we can’t afford to now, we really don’t have any money.”

Large parts of Wuhan appear to have returned to normal. Buses and taxis roll through the streets, diners fill restaurants and theme parks are crowded with visitors taking advantage of the government’s decision to waive entrance fees. On Tuesday, Wuhan’s 2,800 middle schools, primary schools and kindergartens will open their gates to 1.4 million pupils, according to the local government.

While there are numerous unanswered questions about the origins of the outbreak and initial response by authorities, Beijing has touted the city’s recovery as proof its authoritarian coronavirus response is superior to that of Western democracies like the United States, which is still reeling from the health crisis.

But even as economic and social activities in the city of 11 million normalise on the surface, interviews with dozens of local residents show deep psychological scars and economic damage may take months, if not years, to repair.

Wuhan’s gross domestic product contracted 20 per cent in the first half of the year, while official statistics peg the number of Covid-19 deaths at nearly 4,000.The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, the initial epicentre of the outbreak, is a reminder of the city’s continued struggle. The wet market remains closed, with entrances blocked by blue fences and stores covered by black curtains.