Coronavirus: Wuhan's recovery offers UK some reasons to be cheerful

24 March 2020, 07:52 | Updated: 24 March 2020, 09:31

After more than two months on lockdown, Wuhan, the city at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak, will open up. 

Inside the city people are already allowed to move about, subject to restrictions.

And from 8 April, those with a clean bill of health will be allowed to leave entirely.

As the UK begins its own lockdown, Wuhan offers some reasons to be cheerful.

The number of new infections there has fallen dramatically, if not quite to zero (China does not count those who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic).

In the city where it first rampaged, coronavirus has been tamed.

But that comes with some caveats. The restrictions in Wuhan have been much more severe than in the UK.

People have been confined entirely to their homes, with authorities delivering supplies. Thousands have died - some not just from COVID-19, but from other conditions that went untreated.

Wuhan still needed tens of thousands of medical workers drafted in from the rest of China, and the rapid construction of huge new hospitals and isolation facilities.

And the lockdown came when Wuhan had suffered fewer deaths than the UK has now.

We were there on the ground on 23 January, when the city was cut off, and at the time it seemed an extraordinary measure. Now it is one being taken all around the world.

But it worked, something that everyone should keep in mind in the difficult weeks ahead of the UK.

That does not mean that a lockdown guarantees success, and the UK is unlikely to be as vigorous as authoritarian China.

But there are other remedies too. I am currently in Seoul, South Korea - a liberal democracy that has had remarkable success.

Here, people are still going to work, still going to restaurants, still going to bars. They have more cases of COVID-19 but far fewer deaths than the UK.

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South Korea has tested and tracked people to a huge extent, and has not imposed any lockdown, although people have been social distancing.

Those measures worked because they were adopted at the very beginning of the outbreak.

South Korea is close to China: geography provided an impetus that was perhaps lacking in the West.

The same goes for Taiwan, another example of a well-prepared democracy acting quickly and avoiding lockdowns.

Every country is dealing with different circumstances and taking different measures.

The UK's trajectory is already different from South Korea and Taiwan.

But combining lockdowns with testing and tracking perhaps offers the best chance of managing coronavirus. And all these countries show it can be done.