At the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, the skies above China’s Wuhan brightened as towers along both sides of the Yangtze River lit up in tribute to the health workers who helped the city of 11 million curb a deadly outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Cheers of “My Wuhan is back” and “Wuhan, let’s go” rang out on the embankments as bridges and highways opened up for the first time in 76 days, allowing people to leave the industrial hub and epicentre of China’s coronavirus epidemic.

Beijing sealed off Wuhan on January 23, confining millions to their homes in an unprecedented bid to contain the virus, officially known as SARS-CoV-2 and first detected among workers at a seafood market in the city.

At the time, many saw the quarantine as an extreme and draconian measure. But as the virus spread across the globe – infecting more than 1.6 million people, killing more than 95,000 and overwhelming healthcare systems in some of the world’s most developed nations – other governments also followed suit, imposing extraordinary curbs on movement and social contact.

Now Wuhan’s reopening is offering hope to billions of people chafing under lockdowns, wondering when life will return to a semblance of normality. Officials and experts are urging caution, however.

“China has brought the situation under control. But that may be just for now,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations. “There is a real risk of resurgence of cases. For two reasons – the prevalence of asymptomatic people who might spread the disease without knowing they are sick, and the threat from imported cases.

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