Wuhan rings in 2021 with huge crowds as Covid battle continues worldwide

As most of the world celebrated New Year’s Eve under strict guidelines for smaller gatherings or none at all, Wuhan, the place where coronavirus is believed to have originated, saw massive crowds come together in the city with balloons and jubilant scenes for the countdown to 2021.

While the precise origins of Covid-19 remain subject to investigation, Wuhan is where the first major cluster of cases appeared, and where – despite efforts from the local Chinese authorities to hush it up – the first outbreak in January saw residents put under tight lockdown for months.

As per tradition, many in Wuhan gathered in front of the old Hankow Customs House building, one of the city’s most popular New Year’s Eve spots. When the building’s old clock reached midnight, revellers released balloons into the air, cheering and calling out “happy new year”.

News agency pictures showed a crowd adhering to mask guidelines, with people celebrating amid a heavy police presence and strict crowd control. Security personnel were seen telling the few people without masks that they must put one on if they wished to stay, but otherwise the countdown appeared to proceed peacefully and in a relaxed atmosphere.

Those who gathered at the building expressed their joy at being able to celebrate the new year. A 20-year-old student and tourist, Yang Wenxuan, told Reuters: “I’m so so so incredibly happy. This is my first time in Wuhan. But it (the countdown) was so spectacular.

Talking about her aspirations for the new year, Ms Yang added: “I hope that I can successfully obtain my bachelor degree and I hope I can find a boyfriend.”

Another Wuhan resident, Anson Yang, said: “I hope that in 2021 everything goes well in the country and Wuhan can return to normal and I hope that the world can soon defeat the pandemic.”

The 25-year-old , who works in the international trade sector, said his earnings were hit hard in 2020 and he knows of many businesses in Wuhan that are yet to return to normal trading levels.

“If we look at the measures people took, the things people did as part of the epidemic control and the like, a human or friendly touch, something that we would not normally see, was felt by everyone,” said 21-year-old Chen Mengfan.

The festivities came 12 months after the World Health Organization (WHO) said it first received word of cases of pneumonia of an unknown cause in Wuhan, which later became known as the world’s first outbreak of Covid-19. A team of WHO experts are scheduled to arrive in China in January 2021 to investigate the origins of the pandemic.

Wuhan has been largely virus-free for months after reporting a total of 50,354 cases through the year, but a recent study found case counts were likely higher than initially reported. China has also witnessed a recent spike in several cities after being able to control the virus for months.

The worldwide tally of coronavirus cases stands at 83.5 million with over 1.82 million deaths.