PACKED streets and wild New Year celebrations have broken out in the Chinese city of Wuhan where the Covid pandemic began — while the rest of the world is locked up at home.
A year ago today, a Covid-19 outbreak was reported in the Hubei province city, which then spread around the world and killed more than 1.8million people.
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Remarkably, Wuhan has not reported a new locally transmitted case of the disease since May 10 — after lifting one of the strictest lockdowns in the world seven months ago.
In scenes unimaginable in many places around the world, the city’s residents have tonight been thronging the street to toast the New Year.
Many gathered in front of Wuhan city hall holding balloons.
Some were wearing masks, others either have them pulled down or were not wearing one at all.
Meanwhile, young people have been cramming into nightclubs.
Some said they were being cautious, but were reportedly not worried about catching Covid.
‘NO CASES SINCE MAY’
These images chronicle life in the previously little known city.
About 11 million have been shut off from the rest of China in a surprise overnight lockdown beginning January 23.
Roadblocks were erected and planes, trains and buses were barred from entering the city.
Almost 3,900 of China’s officially 4,634 recorded Covid-19 deaths occurred in the industrial city.
But after the lockdown was lifted images have emerged showing hundreds of people packed shoulder-to-shoulder at a water park music festival.
Huge crowds were also seen in Wuhan thronging the streets to celebrate Halloween.
And when nightclubs reopened earlier this month, they were packed to the rafters.
Conspiracy theories about its origins persist, however, with governments suggesting it may have come from the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab.
In his New Year message Chinese president Xi Jinping praised the efforts of his people.
The Communist ruler said:”China has written an epic in fighting Covid-19 as the country put people and lives first and fought the epidemic with unity and perseverance.
“Greatness is forged in the ordinary. Heroes come from the people. Every person is remarkable!”
Paying tribute to medics, he added: “They pooled their drops of strength into tremendous power and built an iron wall to safeguard lives.”
In other news, China has confirmed its first case of a mutant strain of Covid-19 which was recently detected in Britain.
The first patient in China with the new coronavirus variant is a 23-year-old woman who flew into Shanghai from Britain on December 14, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control said.
It said the case “poses a great potential threat” to China’s efforts to curb and control the spread of the virus.
The new strain — which experts say potentially spreads faster than the original one — has prompted travel restrictions on the UK by more than 50 countries.
This includes China, where the coronavirus first emerged late last year.
But pulling up the drawbridge appears to have failed to stop what has been dubbed as “super-Covid” arriving on its shores.
Elsewhere in the world, people were not joining crowds for the countdown like in Wuhan.
Blue and gold fireworks soared into the sky above the Sydney Opera House as they do every New Year’s Eve, but the harbour below was a deserted ghost town, a fittingly creepy send-off for a year that will not be missed.
No light show was to illuminate Beijing from the top of the TV tower.
The lions of London’s Trafalgar Square were barricaded off, as was Red Square in Moscow and Madrid’s Puerta del Sol.
In Rome, crowds would not assemble in St Peter’s, the Pope would lead no Mass, and revelers would not make their yearly dive into the Tiber.
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Some cities planned, like Sydney, to launch fireworks over empty streets. Others, such as London and Singapore, just called their displays off. Paris, Rome and Istanbul were under curfew.
The New Year’s Eve countdown ball was set to drop on Broadway.
But in place of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers jammed shoulder-to-shoulder in Times Square, the audience would be a pre-selected group of nurses, doctors, and other key workers, their families kept six feet apart in socially distanced pens.