Students wearing protective face masks walk out of a primary school, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei province, China September 2, 2020. [REUTERS/Aly Song]

Tears and excitement from students greeted teachers on the first day of school after seven months in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but parents and teachers warned that while the coronavirus has retreated, no one could afford to let down their guard. The central Chinese city - where the global coronavirus pandemic began - allowed more than 2,800 educational institutions to start their new term on Tuesday, opening their doors to nearly 1.4 million students for the first time since January.

Outside the Wuluo Road elementary school, life has returned to a semblance of normality, with one reluctant new pupil screaming at her father to take her home. People carriers clogged the roads, and the school macroeconomy of breakfast stalls and convenience stores was thriving again.

“During the epidemic, the kids were at home for more than half a year and in all aspects couldn’t study as well as they could at school,” said Wei Fanling, who was eating breakfast with her 12-year old son. She said she was relieved her son could now return to class, likening it to “a monster let out of its cage”, but they would remain vigilant.

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“Though this epidemic is over, we still cannot take it easy,” she said. Nearby residential compounds had around 40 confirmed coronavirus cases, parents said. Wuhan’s death toll of 3,869 accounts for more than 80% of China’s total, but it hasn’t seen a single local transmission since the middle of May.

While Wuhan’s educational institutions are trying to put a tumultuous year behind them, they are still taking special precautions, with children subject to regular temperature tests. The government has advised parents to avoid public transport as much as possible. Buses were half-empty, with students being driven to class by private car or on electric scooters.

Wuhan University, though up and running for more than a week and preparing to accept a new cohort of students, has sealed off its campus to prevent unauthorised outsiders from entering. All university students will be tested before they are allowed back, and those returning from overseas will be quarantined in campus guesthouses for 14 days.

Qiao Qiong, a 40-year old university teacher whose son studies at the Wuluo Road school, said she was pleased that months of homeschooling were now over, but normality was still some distance away. “The virus is not a tiny thing, so I believe we still need some time,” she said. “Probably there will be some emergency situations but we are well-prepared for them.”

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