Once the city hardest hit by the COVID-19 epidemic in China, Wuhan is now back in full swing

By Yuan Yuan
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Beijing Review, April 20, 2021
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A visitor take pictures of blooming cherry trees in Wuhan University on March 8. [Photo/Xinhua]

Hongshan Gymnasium in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province, has taken on multiple roles since last year. It served as a temporary hospital when the city was in the throes of COVID-19. It hosted job fairs when the lockdown was lifted and the city started to reopen. It is also a gymnasium, as it should be, hosting athletic events.

On April 8, over 400 people gathered at the gymnasium for an activity marking the 300-day countdown to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. It also marks the one year anniversary of the city's lockdown being lifted.

It's hard to even spot the slightest hint indicating the gymnasium served as a temporary hospital only a year ago when Wuhan was thrust into the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 epidemic. As the first city to report novel coronavirus cases, Wuhan went through a 76-day lockdown, the first such action China had ever taken in a bid to control a virus. Subsequently the city was among the first in the world to bring the virus under control. 

Hongshan Gymnasium became the first venue to be turned into a temporary hospital on February 4 of last year, with over 700 beds. The hospital had eventually treated a total of 1,124 patients by March 10 last year before it was closed. During the pandemic, Wuhan repurposed 14 venues to serve as temporary hospitals, developing a model for other places across the country to follow in the battle against the virus.

Post-virus development 

Also on April 8, another venue that also served as a temporary hospital with over 1,000 beds—the Wuhan International Exhibition Center—saw the opening of a major event, namely the Third World Health Expo. Inaugurated in 2019, the expo has become one of the most iconic events of the city as it aims to establish itself as a center for the healthcare industry.

The 2020 pandemic caused a delay for the second Expo, which, postponed from April to November last year, still managed to attract some 13,000 visitors from 34 countries worldwide.

This year, the expo took place as scheduled, after a preparation period of only five months. Over 1,400 companies participated with a host of new products making their debut at this expo.

The resumption of the city was a fast-paced one. Right on the day when the city's lockdown was lifted, 69 key projects worth a total of 245.1 billion yuan ($34.6 billion) were signed. Only two days later, over 100 construction projects kicked off.

The lockdown caused Wuhan's GDP to plummet by 40.5 percent in the first quarter of 2020. Yet by the end of the year, it still managed to climb up to 1.56 trillion yuan ($239 billion), ranking ninth in China, only two spots below the 2019 ranking.

"The people of Hubei and Wuhan stood united as one and fought a tenacious battle with the virus. Their enormous sacrifice not only made China's victory over COVID-19 possible, but also contributed significantly to the global COVID-19 response," Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister, said in his speech at the Special Event of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Presenting Hubei Province on April 12.

Over 500 diplomatic envoys and representatives attended the event, setting a new record since the MFA first started presenting Chinese provinces and cities. It is a token of the people's acknowledgement of Hubei as well as Wuhan's accomplishments in the battle against COVID-19, as Wang commented. 

"Its economic and social indicators are improving across the board and its GDP growth is expected to surpass 10 percent this year," Wang said. Having emerged from the trying times of the pandemic, Hubei will show still greater vigor and vitality, he added.

Ying Yong, Secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), displayed three sets of before-and-after pictures of Wuhan at the event, demonstrating just how energetically tourism and other industries have resumed in the city at this point.

Dongfeng Motor Corp., as shown in the third picture, resumed production on March 11 of last year and has so far managed to restore its production capacity to a peak of nearly 10,000 passenger vehicles per day, with one passenger vehicle rolling off the production line every 50 seconds.

"Today's Hubei is healthy, safe, dynamic and promising. A newborn Hubei is standing at a historical crossroads with a completely overhauled image," Ying said.

Under the city's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), Wuhan proposed to forge itself into the country's economic, scientific and tech innovation center, as well as a focal point for trade and logistics, international exchange and regional finance.

Wuhan's plans have been applauded by many entrepreneurs attending a special summit of the Yabuli China Entrepreneurs Forum, one of the most influential platforms for Chinese entrepreneurs, in Wuhan on April 7.

Over 100 entrepreneurs from diversified areas including big data, intelligent manufacturing, and auto parts, attended the summit. They expressed their optimism about the future of Wuhan, with some already making plans to pour increased investment into the city, thus placing it in a more strategically important position for development. Finally, 29 projects with a total value of 34.66 billion yuan ($5.29 billion) were signed at the summit.

Liu Yonghao, Chairman of agribusiness New Hope Group and leader of the Sichuan chamber of commerce, visited Wuhan four times in 2020 with a team of Sichuan entrepreneurs to further explore business opportunities. Liu revealed that New Hope Group had already spent over 5 billion yuan ($765 million) on buying a plot of Wuhan land to serve as a base for the company's central China headquarters.

"We plan to invest 20 billion yuan ($3 billion) in Hubei in the next three years and the paid-in capital has already reached 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) within one year," Liu said. Today, the company is establishing a cold chain logistics center warehouse, a distribution warehouse and a central kitchen system, covering an area of 6.67 hectares, supported by the advantageous location of Wuhan as the country's transportation hub.

The one-stop government service helped a lot in accelerating the province's business actions. In June 2020, the Hubei Provincial Government issued a notice promoting a "one-stop government service" to simplify approval procedures and improve the overall business environment.

Its talent pool is yet another advantage of the city that many business people have weighed in on. There are 86 colleges and over 1 million college students in Wuhan, making it a hotspot for scientific and technological innovation.

Gong Hongjia, a billionaire involved in the establishment of Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, the world's largest supplier of video surveillance products, is an alumnus of the Wuhan-based Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Gong has been keeping his eye on the healthcare and low-carbon industries in recent years.

At the summit, he introduced a novel power generation system that can generate heat and electricity by burning biomass fuel and reduce carbon emissions to an extremely low level. "A carbon quota registration center is scheduled to be set up in Wuhan this June," Gong announced as he elaborated on his plans to establish the production line of this recent invention in Wuhan.

Blossoming revival 

When Wuhan ushered in the season of cherry blossoms this year, the number of trips to Wuhan booked via online travel agency Ctrip saw a sharp increase. At Wuhan University, believed to be one of the most beautiful college campuses in China, over 1,000 students volunteered to offer free tour guide services to those campus visitors eager to catch a glimpse of the cherry blossoms at the university.

Nevertheless, Wuhan tourism had actually already resumed prior to this season of blossoms. Figures from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism show that during the Spring Festival holiday in February, 6.92 million trips were made to Wuhan, making it the fourth most popular tourist destination among all Chinese cities.

The airport is even busier today than it was in 2019. The daily average of domestic passenger flights and sum of domestic passengers in March, increased by 14.03 percent and 4.99 percent, respectively, from the same period in 2019, according to the airport operator.

Along with the resumption, measures on virus control and prevention also picked up. In December last year, Wuhan launched the mass vaccination of its residents. According to information from the Wuhan health authorities, as of April 6, 3.7 million vaccine doses had been administered. And the city has seen no reports of domestic COVID-19 cases for nearly 11 months in a row now.

Since last July, a national medical center for major public health incidents has been under construction in Wuhan and is scheduled for completion in June 2022. It will be China's sixth national medical center, aiming to improve the city's ability to deal with medical emergencies such as infectious diseases.

Six provincial-level pandemic treatment centers, including three in Wuhan, are also under construction in Hubei Province. As part of the province's efforts to implement reforms in disease control and prevention, these centers are designed to ensure swift infection control guidance as well as the timely treatment of infectious diseases both on a day-to-day basis and during any potential outbreaks.

"Wuhan has made great progress in many aspects after surviving the epidemic," Ba Shusong, Vice President of the China Society of Macroeconomics, told Xinhua News Agency. "The progress will further help the city thrive and grow into a metropolis of note."

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