Wuhan Tianhe International Airport is 16 miles from the city center of Wuhan, capital of the Hubei province. As the epicenter of the initial COVID-19 breakout, it has been shut down since January 23.
The airport, which is a focus city for China Eastern, China Southern, and Air China, re-opened today. It has historically had non-stop flights to New York, San Francisco, London, Tokyo, Paris, Dubai, Sydney and other destinations in Europe and Asia.
The airport was disinfected on Friday. China’s Xinhua English-language news service has shared photos and videos of the process, which seems more about theater to convince people it’s safe to fly than an actual public health measure.
Wuhan Tianhe International Airport invited a team of 161 professionals to disinfect an area of around 570,000 square meters in Terminal 3.
The team disinfected main facilities such as benches, elevators and trolleys in the terminal.
The airport has also conducted training and assessments of key service personnel, run checks on major facilities such as fresh air systems, and conducted risk evaluations to prepare for resuming operations.
Disney theme parks are expected to add temperature sensors to identify sick guests. However that is at best a partial solution, since it won’t identify any pre-symptomatic individuals spreading the virus. It’s both about health and about convincing people to return to the parks.
There have been studies showing how long the novel coronavirus can last on various surfaces. Stretched out to a week, it’s unclear that enough of the virus survives to cause an infection. The Wuhan airport has been closed for about 10 weeks. The disinfection process is surely more for show than safety, as evidence by the government of China promoting videos of the event.
China has largely contained the virus, although perhaps not to the extent that the government reports. In publishing statistics showing only imported cases, they may be hiding domestic spread. After all when they pay local jurisdictions based on reporting zero cases that both encourages taking steps to limit spread and achieve zero cases, and also to hide any cases that do develop.
The concern at this point is less about Wuhan, than it is about a repeated spread in a second wave. That’s why China has placed restrictions on foreign arrivals, and has extensively screened international arrivals.
Looking to China gives us some sense of what is ahead in terms of continued restrictions on international travel even as the virus subsides, as well as how life itself changes based on changes in consumer preferences as people arise from their lockdowns.