China Eastern Airlines flight MU2527, the first domestic flight from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport after Wuhan's lockdown has lifted, arrives at Sanya Phoenix International Airport on the morning of April 8, 2020. (Photo by Sha Xiaofeng/for chinadaily.com.cn)
Domestic, international exit routes from city shut off simultaneously in late January
Experts have rebutted U.S. President Donald Trump's claim that China allowed residents of Wuhan, the Chinese city hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak, to travel abroad while banning them from going to other parts of China.
The exit routes from the city, both domestically and internationally, were shut off simultaneously in late January, they said.
The government in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, announced on the early morning of Jan 23 the suspension of all outbound flights and trains, and all the city's public transport services, including buses and subway, to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus within the city.
The lockdown measure took effect at 10 am on the same day. Several hours later, highway exits in the city were also closed. The lockdown was lifted on April 8.
According to a white paper released by the State Council Information Office on Sunday, in addition to Wuhan, all other cities in Hubei province also suspended international passenger flights to contain the outbreak.
Many other strict measures were taken across China for epidemic control, including extending the Spring Festival holiday to encourage people to stay at home, canceling mass gatherings, postponing the reopening of schools and closing public venues such as cinemas, theaters and gyms, the report said.
Lockdown strictly enforced
Although the lockdown in Wuhan was strictly enforced, some overseas politicians have repeatedly claimed that infected people were banned from going to other parts of China but they were allowed to fly abroad, causing the spread of the disease overseas.
Responding to such claims by Trump on May 29, China's Foreign Ministry said they were "totally in contradiction with the truth". Following the suspension of the exit routes from Wuhan on Jan 23, no trains or commercial flights left the city between Jan 24 and April 8, it said.
Daniel Bell, dean of the School of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University, said the claim that regular flights from Wuhan continued to run to cities such as London and New York in January and in some cases in February was "fake news".
Bell, a Canadian national, said in a post on his blog account that he searched on Umetrip, a popular flight service application in China, and "the records show that flights out of Wuhan to the rest of the world stopped around midday on the 23rd, the same day China stopped flights from Wuhan to the rest of China."
It turned out that none of the flights that supposedly left from Wuhan after 11:26 am on Jan 23 actually left Wuhan, and they were canceled. Some flights that took off from other Chinese cities and normally required a stopover at Wuhan also canceled the stopover, he said.
Si Ning, a member of the China Law Society, said the claims were a serious distortion of the lockdown measures imposed by Wuhan and were false.
The notice made public by Wuhan's COVID-19 epidemic control headquarters on Jan 23 stated clearly that outbound flights from the city would be suspended from 10 am the same day, which meant people would not be able to fly to other countries from Wuhan, or to Beijing or any other city in China, he said.
On the other hand, China did not ban passenger flights from flying abroad from other Chinese cities on Jan 23. So even if Chinese passengers arrived in other countries after the lockdown of Wuhan, they were not from Wuhan directly, he said.
"It is certain that the Chinese government did not allow residents of Wuhan to fly to other parts of the world," Si said. "The records on the lockdown of Wuhan are true and plausible."