A year ago, China announced its first death from a new virus in Wuhan – 12 months later, Covid-19 claimed 1.9 million lives in a relentless march around the world.
But in the 11 million-strong central Chinese city where the first known outbreak began, the virus has been wiped out and residents are proud of its resuscitation.
On Monday morning, the anniversary went unmarked in Wuhan – commuters moved freely to work while parks and boardwalks hummed with hikers in a city determined to ban its brand as coronavirus Ground Zero.
"Wuhan is now the safest city in China, even in the whole world," said 66-year-old resident Xiong Liansheng.
JANUARY 10, 2021: People with protective face masks stand next to the giant 3D screen on Jianghan Street in Wuhan
JANUARY 10, 2021: A group of friends wearing face masks enjoy being together in Wuhan, where the virus has since been wiped out
JANUARY 11, 2020: Wuhan Hygiene Emergency Response Team employees leave the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan
JANUARY 12, 2020: A woman walks in front of the closed Huanan seafood wholesaler, where a man who died of coronavirus bought goods, according to health authorities
"The awareness of epidemic prevention and control among the Wuhan people is very high – even my two-year-old grandson will wear a mask when going out," added Xiong.
But today Wuhan had to close its markets again and started a mass test campaign after two people from China's new epicenter Covid-19 in northern Hebei Province near Beijing visited the city before testing positive, according to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.
The news comes when China confirmed its first death from an unknown virus in a sparse report a year ago – a 61-year-old man who regularly trades in the now infamous Wuhan wet market has been linked to many of the early cases.
The world would soon become grimly familiar with the disease that killed him as Covid-19.
Little is known about the first victim, including his name, while the market to which the first reported case groups were traced remained closed and surrounded by boarding.
JANUARY 11, 2021: Elderly couples danced, some masked but clasped hands, as social distancing withered in winter sunshine in a busy park beside the Yangtze River
JANUARY 11, 2021: On Monday morning, the anniversary in Wuhan passed unmarked – commuters moved freely to work while parks and the Yangtze River promenade were full of runners
After a long dispute, China said Monday that independent WHO experts would be allowed to enter the country from Thursday. The international community is hoping they can visit the market and see in detail the early days of the virus in Wuhan.
The city is now on the rise again and residents revel in the freedoms they enjoy.
Commuters made their way to work and others strolled along the riverside – a sharp contrast to the countries that are still subject to strict closings and restrictions.
Elderly couples danced, some masked but clasped hands, as social distancing withered in the winter sunshine in a busy park beside the Yangtze River.
"Most cases in China are now imported from overseas and our country has good control over them," said Zhong, an 80-year-old woman who mentions just one name.
"All of Wuhan feel very safe in the city, and we come here and dance happily every day."
People, all wearing face masks, walk the brightly lit streets of Wuhan while enjoying shopping together
JANUARY 11, 2021: People with face masks are pictured at the entrance to the Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan
Jan 10, 2021: A man holds a child in his hand as they wear face masks on Jianghan Street in Wuhan on the eve of China's first anniversary, confirming the first death from Covid-19
JANUARY 12, 2020: A woman wears a face mask as she leaves the Wuhan treatment center where the first man to test positive for Covid-19 was incarcerated
JANUARY 12, 2020: Security guards stand in front of the closed Huanan seafood wholesaler, where a man who died of coronavirus bought goods from the market, according to health authorities
China has been criticized domestically and internationally for its initial handling of the virus, including attempts to silence whistleblowers and failure to report cases for days in early January.
Two weeks after the first death was confirmed, Wuhan and the surrounding province were locked down.
Chinese authorities are trying to stamp out a number of local outbreaks, reporting 103 new infections on Monday – the highest number since July last year – most in northern Hebei province.
China claims the ban on a WHO mission to determine the origin of the coronavirus is a "misunderstanding".
China has announced that it is still negotiating with the World Health Organization over the dates and the itinerary for a visit from international experts studying the origins of Covid-19.
It comes after the head of the agency criticized Beijing for failing to complete the permits for the mission.
China's position in searching for the origins of the pandemic "has always been open and responsible," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying.
She said China is working closely with WHO. However, the dates and itinerary need to be set, she said.
& # 39; The origin problem is very complex. In order to ensure that the work of the global expert group in China is successful and to carry out the necessary procedures and relevant concrete plans, both sides are currently still in negotiations on this, ”Ms. Hua said at a regular press conference.
“I understand it's not just a visa problem and the actual date and itinerary. Both sides are still in close communication. & # 39;
An international team of experts was due to visit downtown Wuhan in January, where the pandemic first appeared a year ago.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday that members of the international scientific team had started leaving their home countries in the past 24 hours as part of an agreement between WHO and the Chinese government.
"Today we learned that Chinese officials have not yet completed the necessary permits for the team to arrive in China," said Dr. Tedros during a press conference in Geneva.
"I am very disappointed with this news as two members had already started their trip and others were unable to travel at the last minute but were in contact with high-ranking Chinese officials," he said.
The Chinese government has tightly controlled all investigations into the origins of the virus at home, an Associated Press investigation found, and state media have played reports suggesting the virus may have originated elsewhere.
The country saw the largest daily increase in COVID-19 cases in more than five months, the country's national health agency said on Monday, as new infections continued to rise in Hebei province, near Beijing.
As a result, China cordoned off two cities south of Beijing, disrupted transport links and banned millions of residents from leaving as authorities wanted to contain the country's largest Covid-19 outbreak in six months.
In the north Chinese province of Hebei, 127 new Covid-19 cases and 183 other asymptomatic infections were recorded last week.
The vast majority were found in Shijiazhuang, a city of several million people in Hebei Province, the vicinity of which brings the total population to 11 million. Nine confirmed cases were in the neighboring city of Xingtai, the area of which is seven million people.
The upswing comes as the World Health Organization research team investigating the causes of the COVID-19 pandemic arrives in China on Thursday. The NHC, which announced its arrival date on Monday, declined to provide the team's itinerary.
China has been accused of initially covering up the outbreak, which first appeared in downtown Wuhan in late 2019. Critics say this delayed China's initial response and allowed COVID-19 to spread around the world.
Shijiazhuang and Xingtai residents, who are about 80 miles apart, have been banned from leaving the country unless strictly necessary, Hebei authorities said Friday.
The Chinese National Health Commission reported 53 confirmed cases as of Thursday, including 37 native patients and 16 imported infections. Among the local cases, 33 were found in Hebei.
City-wide mass test drives began Monday in the Gaocheng district of Shijiazhuang, the epicenter of the Hebei outbreak.
By Friday noon, all 673,787 residents of the district had been tested and 511,219 swab samples analyzed by laboratories, with 259 positive cases found, the city's vice mayor Meng Xianghong said at a press conference.
Mass testing campaigns are still ongoing in the other districts of Shijiazhuang.
Officials vowed to "tightly control the movement of people and vehicles", placing all housing developments under "closed management" – a euphemism for the lockdown.
Hebei residents were also banned from entering or leaving the province of Beijing unless strictly necessary.
"The outbreak was imported from abroad, but the exact causes are currently being investigated in depth by state, regional and municipal experts," Li Qi, director of the Hebei Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference on Friday.
Wangkui County, under the jurisdiction of Suihua City, Heilongjiang Province, reported eight new asymptomatic cases and moved on Monday to close all non-essential businesses, forbid people to leave the city, and blocked all non-essential businesses Transport, state television also reported.
Every family in the county can let a person out of their home every three days to buy essentials, the report said.
Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province, reported four new asymptomatic cases on Monday – the province's first local infections since July 26. The infected people had all recently traveled by train from Wangkui County, Jilin health authorities said.
The infected people's residential areas were closed and people and vehicles were not allowed to leave the premises, the head of the Changchun Health Department said at a press conference.
There are also growing fears that travel plans for hundreds of millions of people for next month's Lunar New Year could be ruined if virus controls are tightened.
Officials are starting to signal a low key New Year holiday, which will run from February 11 to February 17, ending the prospect of banquets, parties and public ceremonies.
"Mass celebrations, gatherings and fairs are prohibited," said Kang Sen of Beijing's Agriculture and Rural Affairs Bureau. Even funerals should be "brief" and all public events should be approved in advance.
His comments, broadcast via the state media, were directed more towards villages in the vicinity of the capital than towards the city itself.
But the number of cases in China is a fraction of the daily infections in the United States, Britain, and many European countries.
China's official toll is 4,634 deaths from Covid-19.