After more than two months of being confined to their homes, most of Wuhan’s 11 million residents are now free to venture out, with infections dwindling from thousands of new cases a day in mid-February to just a handful a week. But for restaurant owner Xiong Fei, the end of the lockdown in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic began hasn’t brought relief, just a new set of challenges.
While factories around Wuhan are working around the clock to get back up to speed, the recovery of consumer-focused businesses such as Xiong’s won’t be so straightforward. Although people are cautiously taking to the streets again, they remain subject to curbs on their movements aimed at keeping the virus at bay. Residents are encouraged to stay home and still must have their temperatures checked before entering any building. In other words, it’s far from business as usual, stoking fears among small businesspeople like Xiong that the lockdown has changed customers’ behavior, maybe for good. “People in the past dined out with their colleagues in their lunch hour, now they’re all getting lunchboxes,” he says, sitting in a booth at an empty Sichuan restaurant he operates. “They’re more likely to cook at home than go out.”
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