WUHAN, China - People thronged the streets of China's central city of Wuhan this week, as they made final preparations for the Lunar New Year to bring the curtain down on a year marred by the coronavirus pandemic that killed thousands.
The outbreak, which first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, prompted authorities to enforce a complete shutdown between the end of January and early April last year, as hospitals overflowed with the sick and dying.
As the Lunar New Year approached, things were nearly back to normal in Wuhan, which has been largely virus-free for months, as people scrambled to make last-minute purchases of food and decorations for family celebrations ahead of the Year of the Ox, which begins on Friday.
"I feel happy," said Song Bo, 33, who works in the auto industry. "Last year, we just stayed at home without doing anything or slept at home every day. This year, though we still need to wear masks, is much better."
Some shopkeepers were also upbeat.
"When the city was put under lockdown, there was no one on the street," said Li Hong Gang, a lantern vendor. "Now, business is recovering and I am satisfied with my sales."
The city's recovery has drawn close scrutiny, with video images of a crowded music rave in a swimming pool making global headlines in August.
But for some merchants at the city's wet markets, which sell live produce, the effects of the shutdown still linger.
Shopkeeper Wu Xiuhong said daily sales at her store selling nuts have halved this year from their usual figure of 40,000 yuan (US$6,200) ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.
"It's depressing," she added. "This year is too terrible. We usually have 10 staff but this year we can handle the store with only four."
(US$1=6.45 Chinese renminbi)
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)
(Reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Writing by Engen Tham in Shanghai; Editing by Karishma Singh)