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As the world struggles to contain coronavirus, life gets back to normal in China

“When the lights turned dark, I felt I had returned to my normal life,” she said. “I could forget about everything outside and have my own spiritual world.”

These scenes stand in stark contrast to the early days of the pandemic when China was its centre and the government imposed sweeping lockdowns.

Passengers head to their trains at the station in Shanghai.

Passengers head to their trains at the station in Shanghai.Credit:Getty Images

Now, after months of travel restrictions and citywide testing drives, locally transmitted cases of the virus in China are near zero, according to official data. On Sunday, China reported no new locally transmitted cases for the seventh consecutive day. The 12 new infections it reported were all imported, bringing China’s total number of confirmed cases to 84,951, with at least 4634 deaths.

Many Chinese cities are once again hosting large events, though with some limits on crowd sizes, after months when such gatherings were banned entirely.

Qingdao, a seaside city in eastern China, is holding its popular beer festival this month largely as planned (face masks are optional). Shanghai recently held a gaming convention that attracted thousands of enthusiasts.

Chinese cinemas are again trading.

Chinese cinemas are again trading.Credit:Getty Images

Many people are resuming old routines, with some modifications, hopeful that the worst has passed.

In Xi’an, a city in north-western China, Jing Mingzhu, who works in the food service industry, recently started travelling and going to the gym again. During a recent trip to southern China, she said, she realised the importance of feeling “free and relaxed.”

“I took travel for granted,” Jing said. “After it was taken away, I felt I should cherish it.”

China’s leaders, hoping to stimulate the economy, are eager for people to get back to work and start shopping and travelling again.

But they are also taking a cautious approach, requiring cinemas and tourist sites, for example, to operate at half capacity. To get into banks, restaurants and other public venues, residents must submit to temperature checks and show digital codes verifying that they are healthy and have not travelled recently to high-risk areas.

Authorities continue to restrict travel in the Xinjiang region in western China, where an outbreak last month prompted a lockdown. China still prohibits most foreigners from entering the country, for fear that they could bring the virus.

While China is not the only place where restrictions have eased – Taiwan, for example, has kept the virus under control for months – the return of some normalcy has become a point of national pride and fodder for the country’s vast propaganda apparatus.

The state news media is pointing to the return of large gatherings and classes as evidence of China’s superior response to the virus, especially compared with the United States and other Western countries.

When photos circulated worldwide in recent days showing thousands of people swimming shoulder to shoulder at a pool rave in Wuhan, Chinese commentators were quick to defend the party. Global Times, a state-run newspaper, called the reaction to the photos “foreign sour grapes.”

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said the world should pay more attention to China’s efforts to control the outbreak.

“This reflects a strategic victory achieved by Wuhan and the Chinese government in fighting the virus,” he said at a regular news briefing on Thursday.

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China could still face a COVID-19 resurgence, experts warn, especially as the weather cools and people spend more time indoors.

“They still need to be cautious,” said David Hui, director of the Stanley Ho Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Mass gatherings and mass celebrations should not be encouraged.”

Some Chinese residents are worried that the public is becoming too dismissive of the virus.

Cheng Ailin, 59, recently visited a gorge in Guangdong that was crowded with tourists. She said she was shocked to see that most people were not wearing masks.

“There were no control and prevention measures,” she said. “If there were a coronavirus case, the consequences would be unimaginable, and the trouble would have no end.”

In Wuhan, where residents endured a 76-day lockdown at the height of the outbreak, many people said they are happy to start moving past the trauma and resume large gatherings with friends and family.

Yuki Liu, a 28-year-old who works at a foreign trading company, attended the pool party in Wuhan that got so much attention. She said the event made her feel “relaxed and free,” like she was enjoying a beach vacation.

“To be honest, I almost forgot about the epidemic,” she said. “As long as people didn’t sneeze all the time or spit, I just felt they were normal people.”

New York Times

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