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2020-04-06 07:10:04

Editor’s note: Gerry Yin is a photojournalist who has spent the past seven weeks reporting from the central city of Wuhan.

When I arrived in Wuhan on Feb. 16, my eyes were immediately drawn to the bright yellow barriers I saw everywhere I went. Erected days prior in an attempt to cut off transmission of COVID-19, they had transformed the city into an archipelago of walled-off residential compounds. It was an eye-catching defense for an invisible foe.

At first, I saw the barriers as symbols, yellow warnings of the city’s confinement. What went on behind them was a mystery: They were almost exactly the height of the average adult male, meaning you had no idea who, if anyone, was on the other side.

Yet even in a pandemic, life goes on, and walls can’t keep people apart indefinitely. As the city brought the outbreak under control, residents started to break through the barriers that separated them — sometimes literally, using drills.

A resident vaults over a barrier to buy soy sauce in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A resident vaults over a barrier to buy soy sauce in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A security guard pays for cigarettes in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A security guard pays for cigarettes in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A few scenes stick out in my mind: a smoker shouting over the wall to the owner of a grocery store on the other side: “A pack of Yellow Crane Towers, please!” Nothing happened for a few seconds, then a hand appeared over the barrier, clutching the store’s payment code.

Then there was the middle-aged woman dressed head-to-toe in pajamas directing a delivery driver from her window. After getting him where she wanted, she lowered a clothes hook down and snagged her order without ever leaving her windowsill.

Wuhan is set to lift its lockdown on Wednesday — a sign that the worst may finally be over. The walls still stand as I write this, but residents are increasingly allowed to leave their compounds for work or to purchase groceries.

For my part, I no longer associate the barriers only with fear, but also with life, vitality, and the ingenuity of ordinary Wuhanese. The cracks in the city’s yellow walls are growing, and our lives expanding to fill them.

A man looks over a barrier in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A man looks over a barrier in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Barriers close off a residential community in Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 23, 2020. After the yellow walls were erected in mid-February, residents, still preoccupied with the outbreak, largely left them alone. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Barriers close off a residential community in Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 23, 2020. After the yellow walls were erected in mid-February, residents, still preoccupied with the outbreak, largely left them alone. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A senior waits outside a pharmacy in Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 23, 2020. Residents with special needs received gate passes that allowed them to go out and buy medicine at designated pharmacies. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A senior waits outside a pharmacy in Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 23, 2020. Residents with special needs received gate passes that allowed them to go out and buy medicine at designated pharmacies. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Even buildings like this old-style villa in Hankou District were blocked off as part of the lockdown, Wuhan, Hubei province, March 21, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Even buildings like this old-style villa in Hankou District were blocked off as part of the lockdown, Wuhan, Hubei province, March 21, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Medical workers transport a patient in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 23, 2020. Over 50,000 people have fallen ill and 2,571 have died in Wuhan during the current outbreak, according to official figures. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Medical workers transport a patient in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 23, 2020. Over 50,000 people have fallen ill and 2,571 have died in Wuhan during the current outbreak, according to official figures. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Bikes were sometimes used to reinforce the walls in Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 23, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Bikes were sometimes used to reinforce the walls in Wuhan, Hubei province, Feb. 23, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A sanitation worker enters a residential community in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A sanitation worker enters a residential community in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A man stands on a platform while waiting for a delivery in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A man stands on a platform while waiting for a delivery in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Delivery drivers wait for residents to pick up their orders outside a community in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Drivers were not allowed to enter residential compounds during the lockdown. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Delivery drivers wait for residents to pick up their orders outside a community in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Drivers were not allowed to enter residential compounds during the lockdown. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A delivery driver passes food over a barrier in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A delivery driver passes food over a barrier in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A delivery driver passes a package to a resident in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A delivery driver passes a package to a resident in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A woman enjoys a snack in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A woman enjoys a snack in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A man passes a heavy shipment through a hole in the wall’s base in Wuhan, Hubei province, April 1, 2020. As time went on and the threat receded, residents began to find creative ways to break through their confinement. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A man passes a heavy shipment through a hole in the wall’s base in Wuhan, Hubei province, April 1, 2020. As time went on and the threat receded, residents began to find creative ways to break through their confinement. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Dogs play in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

Dogs play in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

The owner of a grocery store leans over the yellow barrier in front of his shop to talk with a customer in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

The owner of a grocery store leans over the yellow barrier in front of his shop to talk with a customer in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A man climbs over a barrier in Wuhan, Hubei province, April 1, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A man climbs over a barrier in Wuhan, Hubei province, April 1, 2020. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A salon owner eats sunflower seeds while looking out at the street in Wuhan, Hubei province, April 1, 2020. She says she has had no customers recently, but is keeping her store open as a way to get some air. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

A salon owner eats sunflower seeds while looking out at the street in Wuhan, Hubei province, April 1, 2020. She says she has had no customers recently, but is keeping her store open as a way to get some air. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

The entrance to a residential community is blocked by a combination of yellow barriers, a shared-bike, and a slogan that reads, “Come back and stay at home today so you can still go out and come home tomorrow,” in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 23, 2020. The city’s road barriers will be demolished before April 8, when the lockdown is set to be lifted, but officials have not announced when those around residential communities can be removed. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

The entrance to a residential community is blocked by a combination of yellow barriers, a shared-bike, and a slogan that reads, “Come back and stay at home today so you can still go out and come home tomorrow,” in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 23, 2020. The city’s road barriers will be demolished before April 8, when the lockdown is set to be lifted, but officials have not announced when those around residential communities can be removed. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos

These photos were first published by 野录PHOTO on WeChat.

Contributions: Stephen Che; editors: Ding Yining and Kilian O’Donnell.

(Header image: Delivery drivers in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 22, 2020. Some restaurants continued to offer takeout services after the lockdown. Gerry Yin/Wild Photos)