Coronavirus Epicenter Wuhan Loosens Lockdown—Then Reverses It 4 Hours Later

Coronavirus Epicenter Wuhan Loosens Lockdown—Then Reverses It 4 Hours Later
A road is seen much less busy than usual in Beijing, China, on Feb. 24, 2020. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Cathy He

Officials in the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan on Feb. 24 announced an easing of the central Chinese city’s lockdown measures—only to withdraw the statement less than four hours later.

The Wuhan government announced that the notice had been issued by the “transport control working group” within the city’s new agency to combat the coronavirus outbreak—without permission from their superiors. Those who issued the notice without approval will be reprimanded, the disease control command said.

The notice would have allowed non-Wuhan residents to leave the city, provided they showed no symptoms and had no contact with patients. It also would have allowed those deemed essential for the city’s disease control efforts, such as individuals who deliver supplies, to exit the city. In addition, Wuhan residents who previously had left the city would be allowed to return.

The sudden retraction drew criticism from commentators and netizens who questioned whether such an edict could really have been issued without authorization.

Since Jan. 23, the city has been under extreme lockdown, with roads and transportation closed and all residential blocks under quarantine. However, prior to the lockdown, 5 million out of Wuhan’s total population of 11 million had already exited the city, mostly for Lunar New Year-related travel.

The Epoch Times previously reported that since the lockdown, roughly 25,000 people have left the city each day, despite the quarantine measures, according to internal documents.

Teng Biao, a U.S.-based Chinese rights activist and legal scholar, questioned the official explanation of the retraction, asking on Twitter, “Do you believe it?”

Chinese netizens also expressed skepticism. One said, “How could such a big decision have been so carelessly done?”

Others speculated that the incident may have been a result of internal conflict between the city and central authorities.

“Regional and central authorities had a disagreement. The regional policy was overruled by the central government,” one such post says.

Hu Xijin, chief editor of the regime’s hawkish state-run Global Times newspaper, said in a post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo: “One question: Is the transport working group that brave? They'd dare to issue a notice under the name of the disease control command without permission?”

This is the second time in a week that regional authorities have backtracked on a decision relating to virus control.

On Feb. 21, Hubei provincial authorities said they would add back some cases to its total tally of infections, after subtracting 279 cases as part of a revision to its methodology. A day earlier, the number of confirmed new infections reported by Hubei province dropped dramatically, after the central health authority instructed the province to make the change.

The methodology change meant that only cases detected with genetic tests, rather than with CT scans, would be treated as confirmed cases.

Hubei authorities ordered the cases to be added back to the tally and indicated that whoever had removed them would be held responsible, Tu Yuanchao, a senior official at Hubei’s health commission said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the date of notice issued by Wuhan authorities. The notice was issued on Feb. 24. The Epoch Times regrets the error. 
Cathy He is the politics editor at the Washington D.C. bureau. She was previously an editor for U.S.-China and a reporter covering U.S.-China relations.
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