Photo: Wang Qi/GT

There is no other time like this to make people yearn for normal life, as the first bullet train carrying Hubei passengers to Beijing since travel restrictions were eased, arrived at Beijing West Railway Station at 5:50pm on Wednesday.

Departing from Nanchang, East China’s Jiangxi Province, the G488 high-speed train carried over 250 passengers from two Hubei cities Huangshi and Xiaogan, along with passengers from other provinces.

Each district in Beijing had assigned staff to Beijing West Railway Station to pick up returnees from their district.

With a sticker reading “Chaoyang (welcomes you)” on his arm, a 30-year-old man surnamed Ouyang from Huangshi who was on the train, was excited to finally get back to the city where he works, after a prolonged stay in Hubei due to the epidemic.

He showed off a bag of goodies, saying that before he left, local authorities in Huangshi prepared food and beverages for travelers like him. Then he left the platform and went into a hall where to join a line with other passengers. They headed to the carpark under the staff’s guidance as a head count was taken.

Global Times reporter learned from officials that basically, districts with large numbers of returnees like Chaoyang had set up transit points, while districts with fewer than 10 returnees like Shijingshan offered shuttle services home, or to the main entrance of their residential community to be more exact.

Li Xiao, vice head of the civil affairs authority of Chaoyang district who attended the pickup at the train station, told the Global Times that after picking up the permanent residents of the district, they were to be driven to a transit spot in Chaoyang Park for information checks, then escorted home for a 14-day isolation under the supervision of community workers.

“My hometown where my parents live is in the countryside. I couldn’t find anywhere to buy cigarettes when the lockdown restrictions were tightened,” a middle-aged research fellow at an institute surnamed Feng back from Huangshi, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Feng praised China’s strict prevention and control measures against COVID-19. “It is absolutely timely and necessary. It’s totally fine with me to live without cigarettes. Everybody in China has made great sacrifices to defeat the virus. I don’t think other countries can resume work and normal life two months after the epidemic outbreak without tough measures.”

Most regions in Hubei are at low-risk and there are only two patients in Huangshi. All the passengers had their temperature checked five times during the trip, including twice on the train, Feng noted.

He downplayed concerns about potentially getting the cold shoulder from his neighbors in Beijing, as he is confident that people won’t ignore experiences and sacrifices made by people in Hubei.

“Anyway, we must obey the rules of home isolation, to avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness,” he said. “Most people are nice and polite and don’t discriminate against regions.

“I don’t think people from Hubei are unwelcome in Beijing. The concerns of Beijing residents are mainly due to the growing number of imported cases from overseas,” Feng said, noting although he could work online in Hubei, some of his collogues and friends in Beijing missed him.

“I returned to my hometown in Hubei on January 21, when concerns about the virus were not as intense. I only realized the menace of COVID-19 when I was locked in my community waiting for distributed supplies,” another passenger surnamed Wang, who works for Beijing-based media, told the Global Times while on the chartered bus assigned by the government of Shijingshan district.

“I received a phone call from Beijing CDC last Friday, saying if I planned to go back to Beijing, tickets would be available. I thought it was a scam at first,” Wang noted, saying he later found out that passengers in Hubei who had registered on a government-developed APP called “Jingxin Xiangzhu” or “help each other with carefulness,” would be notified if they were healthy.

Most of the people on the bus shared similar experiences to Wang.

Although the returnees from Hubei proved to be healthy and had appropriate QR codes, green codes and certificates, some Beijing residents said they were still worried about rules of home isolation being violated, which might cause panic.

“Well, it is something worth thinking about, as the rules are flexible in some ways,” said a community volunteer named Yuanyang Shanshui, who picked up Feng after he arrived and registered at the front gate of his community in Shijingshan.

Beijing has stipulated that all arrivals from overseas must be quarantined in a government-designated hotel and get nucleic acid tests, after a woman with coronavirus who had returned from Thailand broke the rules of home isolation and was investigated by police.

“Some communities put paper seals on the doors of returnees. If the door is opened, the seals will be torn,” she noted, believing Hong Kong’s method of smartbands might be a better way. 

“I think everybody feels tired from the last two months. I can naturally feel that as a grass-roots community worker,” she said. “The epidemic taught us to cherish the normal life.

“Spring is coming. I want to see my old friends and have a nice hot pot together after people can safely remove their masks,” she said, watching Feng walk into the stairway and waiting until the light of Feng’s room was on.