scorecardA water-park music festival in Wuhan attracted thousands of partygoers — but residents say normal life is still on pause
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A water-park music festival in Wuhan attracted thousands of partygoers — but residents say normal life is still on pause

Aria Bendix   

A water-park music festival in Wuhan attracted thousands of partygoers — but residents say normal life is still on pause
LifeScience4 min read
Partygoers watch a music performance from a swimming pool at the Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park in Wuhan, China, on August 15, 2020.    STR/AFP/Getty Images
  • Thousands of partygoers attended a music festival in Wuhan, China, on Saturday, an event that seemed to symbolize a return to normal life.
  • But Wuhan locals say that for the most part, the city is still enforcing strict public-health measures.
  • Residents continue to wear masks and some businesses remain closed or are operating at half capacity.

Mbali KaShongwe Gcabashe moved from South Africa to Wuhan, China, just six months before it became the origin site of the coronavirus pandemic. She stayed under strict lockdown with her three children for 76 days starting in January.

Officials checked her temperature every time she left her apartment. After placing an online order, she was assigned a number that indicated her turn to retrieve packages outside her building. The streets were so empty, she said, she almost forgot the sound of traffic.

For a time, Gcabashe wasn't allowed to leave her home at all.

"Even the elevators were deactivated," she told Business Insider. "That's how intense our quarantine was. It wasn't a quarantine like I've seen in most places where people are still free to move about and go to certain places. Here, when it was locked down, that meant everything was locked down."

Wuhan officially lifted its lockdown on April 8. By that time, the city of 11 million had only reported three new infections in the prior 21 days. A month later, after six new cases cropped up in one weekend, Wuhan officials unveiled a massive campaign to test every resident. That effort revealed just 206 new infections — a clear indication that the outbreak was under control.

So when thousands of partygoers flocked to a music festival at the Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park on Saturday, some local residents weren't particularly concerned.

"These are young people that have been tested on the regular in their communities, in their colleges, etcetera," Gcabashe said. "If you would ask me where I'd feel safer between my own country in South Africa or in the US, I'd still choose Wuhan."

Gcabashe said Wuhan is now reaping the benefits of its rigorous three-month lockdown. In photos circulating on social media, the music-festival attendees can be seen congregating in a pool without distancing or wearing masks.

"People can go and have some form of fun, because you can't lock the city down forever," she said. "At some point they are going to have to test to see if everybody is as healthy as they think."

Still, the city hasn't thrown caution to the wind. Local officials continue to enforce strict public-health measures, including temperature checks, face masks, and the use of codes to indicate whether residents are symptom-free.

Normal life is still on pause

For the most part, Gcabashe said, Wuhan hasn't returned to normal.

wuhan after lockdown
Mbali KaShongwe Gcabashe at her daughter Zoe's birthday party on July 18, 2020. The restaurant was reserved just for her party, she said.      Mbali KaShongwe Gcabashe

The city still isn't accepting international flights. Healthy Chinese citizens must install a "digital pass" on their smartphone that permits them to board public transit or visit hotels and restaurants. Shopping malls have reopened and traffic has come roaring back, but gyms, libraries, and museums are only operating at half capacity. Movie theaters require masks and only 30% of seats can be occupied. Bars and nightclubs remain closed.

"In the first half of the year, we only opened some projects that had been decided before the outbreak," Hu Zeyu, an employee at a local real-estate company, told AFP. "Business volume has been greatly reduced."

Only high school seniors have returned to school so far, though the city is preparing for all schools to reopen in September.

Gcabashe, who teaches 3rd through 5th grades at an international school in Wuhan, said she's confident in the precautions schools have put in place, including temperature checks, mask-wearing, hand sanitizing, and better air flow in classrooms. In China, she added, older citizens often take their grandchildren to school while parents are at work, so Wuhan is performing additional health checks on its senior population.

"They are really, really working around this virus just to ensure that everybody gets comfortable enough and feels safe enough to send their kids back to school," she said.

Gcabashe added that she has been tested for the coronavirus three times. Her children have been tested as well – and no one in their family has gotten sick so far. Still, they're being cautious about leaving their home.

wuhan after lockdown
A jumping park at a mall in Wuhan post-lockdown.      Mbali KaShongwe Gcabashe

The family ventured to the mall for the first time last week. They bought tickets to an indoor bounce house, where the staff sanitized the play area every 30 minutes. Gcabashe said she's observed similar cleaning practices on escalators and trains throughout the city.

"The new normal is that everything gets sanitized on a regular basis," she said. "The cleaning is just more intense than it was before."

Wuhan residents hope to avoid another lockdown

Unlike in the US, where efforts to limit capacity at restaurants and businesses and enforce mask-wearing have met resistance, Gcabashe said the majority of Wuhan residents are obediently following health protocols.

On occasion, she added, she'll spot someone taking an evening walk without a face covering or with their mask over their chin, but masks are the overwhelming norm in her city.

Compare that to the US, where a July Gallup poll found that 14% of respondents said they never wore face masks, and only 44% said they always wore a mask outside.

wuhan after lockdown
Mbali KaShongwe Gcabashe buying street snacks post-lockdown.      Mbali KaShongwe Gcabashe

"What people need to understand about China is that when China has a bigger goal, individual comfort is not of concern," Gcabashe said. "Without that system, they wouldn't be able to control over a billion people."

Wuhan residents also want to avoid another lockdown. So they're cautious about doing anything that could fuel the virus' spread, Gcabashe said.

She added that although some couples were quick to get married after the lockdown lifted, others — including her own friends — have postponed their weddings.

"When we talk about possible freedom, we always refer to spring next year, because that's when I think most of us will feel relatively comfortable after we've gone through the winter to see if the virus is really, really gone," Gcabashe said. "Until then, we will still be exercising some caution."