IT'S home to the epicentre of the global coronavirus outbreak – where cyclists passed dead bodies in the street and hospitals were crammed with rows of gasping patients.
Yet now, after more than two months of lockdown, China has seen the number of new COVID-19 cases fall sharply – leading the country to reopen restaurants, shopping centres and even nightclubs.
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Next week, travel restrictions on people in hard-hit Wuhan are due to be lifted – despite new fears of a second coronavirus wave, with China reporting 48 new cases yesterday, up from 31 infections a day earlier.
Brit Patrick Quinn, who has been living in lockdown in eastern China for five weeks now, says his city is starting to return to normal, with local gyms, businesses and schools opening their doors once more.
The 37-year-old school principal, from Belfast, lives alone in a one-bed apartment in Changshu, Jiangsu province, 460 miles away from Wuhan, where the devastating COVID-19 outbreak began.
Here, Patrick, who is single, tells us how China is cautiously emerging from the other side of the pandemic – and how the UK can do the same, as long as all Brits play their part.
He says: “I used to hate the sound of car horns beeping all the time here – it drove me crazy. But now, when I walk down the street and hear them, I love it. Finally, there’s noise and traffic again.
I moved to Changshu in September 2017 to become principal of an international school. I love the people here – they’re so welcoming and stress-free. But when coronavirus hit, everyone got scared.
Busy Hong Kong was like a ghost town… that’s when I knew it was serious
I was actually on holiday in the Philippines in January when the outbreak became news. My boss called me to say the country was on lockdown and we’d have to delay the next school semester.
Flying back home, I came via Hong Kong – which was like a ghost town. I’d been to the city before and you couldn’t even stand up on the subway because it was so busy. That’s when I knew it was serious.
I was fortunately able to get back into Changshu – they would only let you in if you lived there – but I had to have my temperature checked and sign paperwork before being allowed into my apartment.
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Once through my front door, that was it – I stayed indoors pretty much 24/7.
Everything was shut down – shops, gyms, schools, restaurants. I only ventured out of my one-bedroom apartment to go to the small supermarket on my street. The big one was closed.
For at least four weeks, I passed time working – luckily, my school was still teaching kids online – watching YouTube videos, learning some Chinese and trying to cook, albeit not very well.
I only left my one-bedroom apartment to go to the small supermarket on my street. The big one was closed
It was boring, but had to be done.
Although I was legally allowed to go outside when I wanted to – I’d missed the strictest part of the lockdown during my holiday – nothing was open and the streets were dead.
We were all listening to the experts’ advice: stay inside.
Then, about 10 days ago, I heard rumours the local shopping mall had opened back up. I went to check, and it had.
Now, every single business around me is also up and running – from hairdressers, cafes and McDonald’s to nightclubs. The buses are operating again, too, and loved ones are embracing and spending time together.
There’s a real buzz again.
It’s not entirely the same as before the pandemic, though. Whenever I go out shopping or to a restaurant, I have my temperature tested – they put a white, gun-shaped device towards my forehead or wrist and take a reading.
They put a white, gun-shaped device towards your forehead or wrist and take a temperature reading. If it's too high, you'll be pulled aside
If it was too high, I’d be pulled aside and given an immediate coronavirus test. If it came back positive, I’d be rushed to hospital for treatment. I see the checks as something of a luxury – something Britain doesn’t have.
It’s the same at my apartment block, where the security guard checks everyone.
I also have to show my personalised QR code – the product of a detailed coronavirus questionnaire I filled out on the plane from Hong Kong. It basically confirms I’m well and haven’t been exposed to the virus.
Today, many locals, including myself, still wear protective masks – beer-drinkers are even pulling them down every time they sip a pint. But I’ve seen some families – and babies – without one on.
I know we’re lucky here – Changshu is nearly 500 miles away from Wuhan, where thousands have been wiped out by the virus, and, as far as I know, there have been no COVID-19 deaths in my city.
Thanks to how controlled China is, the virus is on its way out.
This weekend, my local gym will re-open – and I'll be back to school on April 7.
I'm on the other side of the hill – and I've told my loved ones back in the UK they can be, too.
There's light at the end of the tunnel, but everyone needs to be singing off the same hymn sheet. It's a black and white choice: life or death. We didn't play Russian roulette here, and you shouldn't either.
Share Netflix passwords, binge-watch Only Fools and Horses, take on a hobby, learn something new – but most of all, remain positive. Who knows, you might come out better than before.
Lockdown is a powerful way of bringing loved ones closer together – and, from what I've seen, many people are emerging from the other side with a newfound sense of what's important."
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