Thousands of travellers rushed to leave the Chinese city of Wuhan early Wednesday as authorities lifted a more than two-month travel ban.
Wuhan in Hubei province was the city where the global coronavirus pandemic first emerged.
As the ban expired on schedule at midnight (1600 GMT Tuesday), passengers — many in hazmat suits — expressed joy and relief as they filed into Wuhan’s Wuchang station to catch the first overnight trains out of town.
“Wuhan has lost a lot in this epidemic, and Wuhan people have paid a big price,” said a 21-year-old man surnamed Yao, who was heading back to his restaurant job in Shanghai.
“Now that the lockdown has been lifted, I think we’re all pretty happy.”
Government estimates say as many as 55,000 people are expected to flow out Wednesday by train from the city, which was placed under an unprecedented quarantine lockdown on January 23.
State-run Xinhua news agency said columns of passenger cars also lined up to stream out of the city at midnight as road barricades on its outskirts were dismantled, and that flights also resumed early Wednesday at Wuhan’s international airport.
Some travellers could barely contain their happiness.
“I’ve been stuck for 77 days! I’ve been stuck for 77 days!” shouted one man who arrived at the railway station for a train back to his home province of Hunan.
The lockdown made Wuhan the first place in the world subjected to draconian containment steps now seen in many countries.
The rest of surrounding Hubei province quickly followed, confining tens of millions of people at homes and cutting the province off from the world as transport in and out was halted.
Chinese media outlets hailed the removal of the travel ban, with headlines posted on websites after midnight saying: “Wuhan, long time, no see.”
Hubei and the provincial capital Wuhan have suffered the majority of China’s officially claimed tally of more than 81,000 overall infections and more than 3,300 deaths.