Wuhan began allowing people to leave on Wednesday for the first time since the central Chinese city was sealed off 76 days ago to contain the coronavirus that first emerged there late last year.
China took the drastic decision to cut off the city of 11 million people on January 23 after it became clear that the virus was highly contagious and potentially deadly.
The decision to lift the ban – albeit with travellers required to meet certain conditions – came despite fears of a second wave of infection if restrictions were eased too soon.
Within hours of the lifting of the ban, roughly 65,000 people had left the city by train and plane alone, according to the The Associated Press news agency news agency, quoting local media reports.
The first train to carry departing passengers out of the city left at 00:50 am on Wednesday (1650 GMT on Tuesday) and outbound highways were opened to traffic about the same time.
Roads, bridges and tunnels were also opened, allowing thousands of more to leave by car and bus, as long as they were able to show a mandatory smartphone application powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance to indicate they were healthy and had not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.
“I’m very happy, I’m going home today,” migrant worker Liu Xiaomin told Reuters news agency as she stood with her suitcases inside Wuhan’s Hankou railway station, bound for Xiangyang city.
The topic “Wuhan lifts lockdown” quickly became the top trending topic on China’s social media Weibo platform, with posters leaving comments such as “welcome back Wuhan”.