A year after going into lockdown, Wuhan's residents are out partying

Chinese city faced months of severe restrictions after the coronavirus was detected

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Glow-in-the-dark rabbit ears, pulsating beats, and a flexible attitude to masks: nightlife in China's Wuhan is back with a vengeance almost a year after a lockdown brought life to a standstill in the city of 11 million.

As the rest of the world continues to grapple with lockdowns and soaring infections, young people in the city, once the centre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, are enjoying their hard-earned freedom.

In Super Monkey – a huge nightclub in the city centre – there is no dress code or VIP list.

What is obligatory, at least to get through the door, is a mask and a temperature check – any higher than 37.3°C and bouncers can turn prospective partygoers away.

Inside, where clubbers let loose on the dance floor amid the deafening sound of techno and a blinding laser show, the rules are not always so strictly followed.

In this picture taken on January 21, 2021, people visit a nightclub in Wuhan, China's central Hubei province. / AFP / Hector RETAMAL
People visit a nightclub in Wuhan, the city in China's central Hubei province where the novel coronavirus was first detected, on January 21, 2021. AFP

While masks are obligatory at the door, DJs and partygoers take them off to chat with friends, dance, or smoke.

Many are just happy to find themselves out on the town after last year's gruelling quarantine, imposed to battle what was then a mysterious new virus.

"I was stuck inside for two or three months ... the country fought the virus very well, and now I can go out in complete tranquility," a man in his thirties, who identified himself as Xu, said.


Coronavirus around the world


The hedonistic vibes and champagne on ice are far from the austerity preached by authorities in Beijing.

But Chen Qiang, a man in his 20s, praised the Communist Party for having practically eliminated the epidemic, despite a recent surge in cases in other parts of the country in the past few days.

"The Chinese government is good. The Chinese government does everything for its people, and the people are supreme. It is different from foreign countries," he said.

Beijing's state media is hammering home the failure of western governments to tackle the virus, contrasting the chaos abroad with China's return to normal.

It touts that success as evidence of the superiority of Beijing's authoritarian political model.

But while many are keen to get back to a semblance of normality, Mr Chen recognises that the virus has changed things.

In the club, there are fewer people than before the pandemic, he said.

Nightclub brand manager Li Bo said the virus had hit his industry hard.

"Compared with other lockdowns in other countries, our country is at least half open, but the consumers still have the feeling of unease," he said, estimating that nightlife in Wuhan had dropped between 60 per cent and 70 per cent.

The strict rules applied by some establishments do not help, with capacity limited and reservations required.

Customers must also show a tracking app proving they have a clean bill of health.

Even that is not always enough to get in.

Several AFP journalists were refused entry into the Imhan club because their apps revealed they had come from Beijing.

One southern neighbourhood of China's capital reported an infectious variant of the virus that originated in the UK.

Despite the uncertainty, Wuhan residents are thrilled that their city is no longer the ghost town that shocked the world a year ago.

Last summer, images of a mega-party at a water park in the city were met with shock by internet users in the rest of the world, where the coronavirus continued to wreak havoc.

Partygoer Xu said he now sees last spring's lockdown as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience".

"I felt lucky that I wasn't [infected with Covid-19]. Now it is back to normal, I feel very relaxed and happy."