The UK Daily Telegraph's China correspondent spends a week in Wuhan as it emerges from lockdown - and finds that many questions remain.

Monday

The guard at the station eyes my ticket: Beijing to Wuhan, the locked-down ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic.

"You sure? No mistake?" he asks. "No mistake," I say.

My colleague and I disinfect our seats with a wad of wipes the minute we get on the five-hour high-speed train.

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I worry coming to Wuhan will change my "green" health code – a contagion risk profile, which determines the difference between going out to dinner or government quarantine.

When I get there, traffic is sparse, though busier than I expected. I chat with people in a park, out for their first strolls after nearly three months indoors.

I walk by Huanan seafood market (pictured below), where experts think the virus emerged, and find it sealed with sheets of corrugated metal, wrapped in police tape, and patrolled by officers.

The Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, where the coronavirus is said to have first been detected. Photo / Getty Images
The Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, where the coronavirus is said to have first been detected. Photo / Getty Images

At the end of the day, I check my health code again: Still green. Whew.

Tuesday

Exiting my room, I bid good morning to a hotel cleaner in a hazmat suit and head out.

Cai Yao, 34, tells me his mother's symptoms appeared in late January and worsened quickly; she only returned home two weeks ago.

"For a whole week, she couldn't eat. She coughed up blood, and her nose would bleed," he said. "It really looked like she was on her deathbed."

Hospitals were full, so they drove daily across town for outpatient treatment, waiting 10 hours in line with many others. Cai doesn't know what shots were administered, but is grateful she recovered.

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Many families weren't so fortunate. At the peak, 5000 bodies were waiting to be scorched into ash at one of Wuhan's eight crematoriums, a worker tells me – a far cry from two dozen per day before the pandemic. His shifts began at 5.30am and ended after dark.

Such accounts cast doubt over China's reported death toll of about 3300, especially as fatalities in Italy, Spain, France, the UK, US, and Iran far exceed that figure.

Virus deaths are so sensitive that at a cemetery – which grieving families haven't been allowed to visit – a phalanx of uniformed officers and plainclothes minders surround me and my colleague. When I try to leave, they grab my bag, drag me backward, and snatch my phone.

"What if you report about this incident?" one sneers, when I ask for it back.

They accuse us of sneaking in and staying hours to take photos. Actually, we'd walked in the front gate, registered our details after a temperature check – as per usual in coronavirus China – and roamed for half an hour.

Government minders appear at the Wuhan cemetery, detaining The Telegraph's correspondent for around an hour.
Government minders appear at the Wuhan cemetery, detaining The Telegraph's correspondent for around an hour.

After threatening ("can't leave until the 'investigation' is over") and berating us ("stupid imbeciles") for about an hour, they let us go, upon taking photos of our ID documents. Our driver says the police also harassed him and recorded his details.

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This is the same "welcome" treatment I've had investigating human rights violations in China's Xinjiang concentration camps, Muslim cleansing in Ningxia, the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Residents have told me they don't think they'll ever learn the truth of what happened. All this leads me to ponder what the authorities are trying to hide – even as China crows success.

Wednesday

Freedom! Sort of. Lockdowns lift today in Wuhan. But things are far from normal.

Transport links start coming back online, and major roads are unsealed. Cars started lining up at city limits before midnight.

Residents cross the Yangtze River on a ferry in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Wednesday, April 8 as the city comes out of lockdown. Photo / AP
Residents cross the Yangtze River on a ferry in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Wednesday, April 8 as the city comes out of lockdown. Photo / AP

But quotas have been imposed – for instance, only 1000 a day are allowed to enter Beijing from Wuhan. Even then, people need to be approved after showing a clean bill of health.

Some housing compounds continue barring residents from going out, or limiting them to two hours a day. Barriers made of corrugated metal sheets have yet to all come down. Same with cement road blocks. I spy a man in a hazmat clamber over and sneak away!

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Being sprayed down with disinfectant before leaving the hotel. Photo / Sophia Yan
Being sprayed down with disinfectant before leaving the hotel. Photo / Sophia Yan

Disinfecting tents continue to dot the city. Getting in and out of my hotel still requires being sprayed with medical-grade alcohol.

Traffic is much noisier today, though nobody seems fussed by a sign that life is resuming.

Thursday

Requirements to depart Wuhan apply to me, so I head to the city's No. 7 hospital to get my throat swabbed for a nucleic acid test to determine whether I've been infected with the coronavirus.

I don't feel ill, though asymptomatic cases are now being discovered. Hopefully, I'm not one of them…

At the hospital entrance, a thermal facial recognition camera takes my temperature. Amazingly, this works with a face mask. I don goggles and feel even more claustrophobic.

Medical staff have protective suits, shoe covers, face shields; one spritzes sanitiser over his latex gloves.

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It's haunting to be inside. So many people died here, staff say.

Doors are sealed in the fever clinic, dozens of oxygen tanks sit outside, and an extra CT machine is in a trailer out front.

Next step: Registering via a mobile app to be approved for return and quarantine confirmation by Beijing authorities. There's a long queue – at least 11,000 have already applied, and there's a daily departure limit.

I feel glad to pass an open wine shop. I stock up; might be here a while.

Friday

Tons of virus origin rumours floating around. Scientists are working on this, too, and have found genetically similar coronaviruses in bats and pangolins.

A seafood vendor tells me she heard patient zero was a man in his 70s selling wild ducks at the now-closed Huanan market.

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Others deny any Huanan link, and tell me unspecified foreigners brought it during the World Military Games last October, held in Wuhan.

Wu Jianming, 29, a glassworker says: "Bats are impossible. When I was a child, we often played with them."

By far the most prevalent theory is that the Americans brought the virus. One man says the severity of infections is evidence the virus emerged in the US.

"It's so bad there," he said. "Do you think this is still the Wuhan flu?"

A security guard looks on as a busload of journalists arrive at the Leishenshan Hospital which was constructed in a parking lot from prefabricated modules in two weeks in Wuhan. Photo / AP
A security guard looks on as a busload of journalists arrive at the Leishenshan Hospital which was constructed in a parking lot from prefabricated modules in two weeks in Wuhan. Photo / AP

The idea was seeded by a Chinese official, who suggested the US military brought the virus.

Beijing has been busy reframing the narrative to divert public anger from government missteps over the outbreak, stoking nationalism by portraying China as the world leader in virus response and buying the world time.

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Some, including officials and politicians in the US and UK, see it differently – that a botched initial response exacerbated global spread.

Saturday

We bundle into a van with other foreign media for a government-arranged trip to Leishenshan Hospital, a temporary field hospital.

Hospital officials say thousands have recovered, and only 15 patients remain. We're shown an empty virus ward with sealed rooms waiting to be disinfected. Many medical staff have transferred out.

This aerial photo shows Leishenshan Hospital which was constructed in a parking lot from prefabricated modules in two weeks in Wuhan. Photo / AP
This aerial photo shows Leishenshan Hospital which was constructed in a parking lot from prefabricated modules in two weeks in Wuhan. Photo / AP
A worker walks along the corridors leading to wards at the Leishenshan Hospital which was constructed in two weeks in Wuhan during the coronavirus outbreak in the city. Photo / AP
A worker walks along the corridors leading to wards at the Leishenshan Hospital which was constructed in two weeks in Wuhan during the coronavirus outbreak in the city. Photo / AP

"All data are reliable; please rest assured," they say, when asked whether China's reported figures accurately represent the outbreak.

Doubts persist over the numbers. Hospitals were immediately overwhelmed; there were multiple revisions to confirming cases; and those not tested – despite having what doctors strongly hinted was the virus – weren't included in the death toll.

With so many curbs still in place, it's clear authorities remain concerned. Even as Wuhan has begun reporting zero deaths, the hospital won't be dismantled until next year.

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I get my virus results back. Relieved to be negative!

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website