Sunday marks two years since a drastic lockdown was imposed on Wuhan, the original epicenter of the novel coronavirus, with the Chinese government bolstering preventive measures ahead of the Feb. 4 start of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Daily life has returned to almost normal and economic activities have resumed in the central Chinese city, known as a major business and transportation hub, while downtown areas have been teeming with people.

Many citizens, however, keep wondering where the virus originated, with the government of President Xi Jinping believed to have issued a gag order on health care officials to contain backlash in Wuhan. The virus was first detected in the city in late 2019.

Photo taken in Wuhan, China, in June 2021 shows the Wuhan Institute of Virology. (Kyodo)

Guo Jiuli, a 52-year-old worker for a ride-hailing service in Wuhan, said his income has fallen more than 20 percent from before the virus raged across China, as the number of tourists visiting the city with a population of 12 million has been decreasing.

Nevertheless, the economy of Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital, has been steadily recovering, expanding 12.9 percent in 2021 from a year earlier, official data showed. The economy had contracted 12.9 percent in 2020 compared with the previous year.

Wuhan has reported a total of over 54,000 infections but has added only 117 cases since January 2021, according to health authorities. The figures represent only symptomatic patients. The death toll has been unchanged at 3,869 since April 2020.

The 76-day lockdown in Wuhan was lifted on April 8, 2020, after all public transportation services were suspended and the movements of people were significantly restricted.

To this day, though, some citizens remain leery of the central government amid suspicion that it allowed the virus to spread to the world due largely to a delay in its initial response and to its attempt to conceal key aspects of the pandemic.

In 2021, experts from the World Health Organization carried out an investigation into facilities in Wuhan in a bid to identify the source of the coronavirus.

They visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a controversial research laboratory from which the virus was rumored to have accidentally escaped, as well as a market where many people were confirmed to have been infected in the early days of the outbreak.

The experts eventually rejected the possibility of the virus having leaked from the lab, but suspicion about the origins, in addition to distrust of the ruling Communist Party, has yet to be dispelled both at home and aboard.

The market, at which wild animals like bats and snakes had been traded alongside seafood, was already closed and sanitized thoroughly by authorities when the WHO experts began a full-fledged investigation in Wuhan.

The origins of the virus have become one of the causes of tension between China and the United States, along with issues such as the Asian nation's alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and security challenges to self-ruled democratic Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the Beijing Olympics will be held as the United States and other democratic countries such as Britain and Australia have pledged not to send their government officials to the global event in a "diplomatic boycott" over China's human rights record.

An installation featuring Beijing Winter Olympic mascot Bing Dwen Dwen (R) and Paralympic mascot Shuey Rhon Rhon is seen in Beijing on Jan. 16, 2022, just weeks before the Chinese New Year coincides with the Olympics. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The U.S.-led move has been one of the headaches for Xi, who has been eager to successfully host the Olympics to secure a third term as leader at the ruling party's twice-a-decade congress in fall, foreign affairs experts say.

In a sign the Xi leadership hopes to preserve the image of the Beijing Olympics, it has been implementing whatever steps it can to curb the recent wave of community infections with the highly contagious Omicron variant within the country.

In Xi'an, where more than 2,000 people have been infected with the virus since early December, municipal authorities have locked down the city of 13 million since the middle of the month.

Residents in Beijing have been strictly required to present their "health code" on a smartphone, which can confirm whether they have a high risk of infection, before boarding trains as well as entering shopping malls and office buildings.

Moreover, all visitors to the capital have been compelled to take a PCR test within 72 hours of entry, while foreigners traveling to Beijing are forced to be quarantined at designated facilities for at least three weeks.

People line up to take a PCR test in Beijing on Jan. 18, 2022. (Kyodo)

The Beijing municipal government said in mid-January that it has found its first Omicron case, weeks after community infections with the variant were identified in Tianjin, a city of 14 million that is known as a key gateway to the capital.

In the run-up to the Olympics, places where infected people visited before have been locked down and those who may have come into contact with them have lined up at a COVID-19 testing site.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters earlier this month that the central government's "comprehensive and effective" anti-epidemic measures would help Beijing hold a "safe, simple and wonderful Olympic event."

Kazuya Iwasaki, a 39-year-old Japanese employee at an electronics maker in the capital, said, "It's OK for China to make efforts to host the Beijing Olympics, but we have been fed up with strong restrictions" under its radical zero-COVID policy.

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