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Life in the time of coronavirus: How Wuhan made it through a week in lockdown

WUHAN (China) — In the week since the central Chinese city of Wuhan went into lockdown, everyday life has been on hold.

People wearing facemasks to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in the city, walk in front of the Wuhan Fifth Hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on Jan 24, 2020. China sealed off millions more people near the epicentre of a virus outbreak on January 24, shutting down public transport in an eighth city in an unprecedented quarantine effort.

People wearing facemasks to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in the city, walk in front of the Wuhan Fifth Hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on Jan 24, 2020. China sealed off millions more people near the epicentre of a virus outbreak on January 24, shutting down public transport in an eighth city in an unprecedented quarantine effort.

WUHAN (China) — In the week since the central Chinese city of Wuhan went into lockdown, everyday life has been on hold.

For many, the world has shrunk to their flats, forcing them to find ways to get through the minutes, hours and days until the outbreak of the previously unknown coronavirus is over. But for others, it has been a moment to help others at ground zero of a disease that by Monday (Feb 3) had infected over 16,000 people around the world and killed at least 360 in China.

At 2am on Jan 23, authorities announced travel restrictions on Wuhan residents, shutting down Wuhan’s airport, train stations and public transport. Other cities in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, followed suit in the next several days.

About 5 million residents left Wuhan before the lockdown because of the outbreak and the Spring Festival holiday, with roughly 9 million remaining, according to Hubei officials.

One of those who stayed is Mr Liang Liang. The businessman has joined an estimated 4,000 people who volunteer their time and cars to transport supplies and medical staff.

The closure of public transport left stranded hospital staff and patients without their own cars. WeChat groups soon sprang up to match drivers – including Mr Liang Liang – with those in need.

On Wednesday, returning home at 10pm after an exhausting day behind the wheel, Mr Liang Liang said he volunteered after seeing the plight of hospital workers.

“Online videos and photos showed medical staff working in terrible conditions and lacking protective gear supplies. I felt terrible heartache seeing these images,” he said.

In the past week, Mr Liang Liang has ferried around 100 medical staff and delivered tens of thousands of masks and several thousands of protective suits to hospitals. Some volunteer drivers started their days at 5am and usually do not finish until late at night, he said.

Defying authorities’ recommendations to stay home, volunteer drivers are facing a higher risk of being infected as they come into contact with doctors and patients. A volunteer coordinator said a driver had come down with a fever on Saturday, according to messages posted in the WeChat group.

“To say I don’t worry about being infected would be lying. I am worried… But given the situation, my motivation to help is much higher than my concerns for my health. I’m also hoping I’ll be lucky and stay uninfected,” he said.

The lockdown also triggered some initial panic buying but, a week on, several Wuhan residents said they had enough food – the big problem was getting products like disinfectants and pharmaceuticals.

“I go out about once a week to buy groceries. Food is easy to buy but masks and medicines are not. I have to buy some blood pressure drugs for my mum,” said Prof Wang Wei, a professor in electronic engineering from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan.

On top of the usual health problems, the residents must also cope with anxiety.

Prof Wang said his fear spiked when he found out that someone he was in contact with was hospitalised with a fever.

“I was very afraid. The grandfather of a friend died of this Wuhan pneumonia,” he said.

For Ms Crystal Yu, a marketing graduate, the lockdown is jeopardising the chances of her starting a new position.

Ms Yu arrived in Wuhan from Milan in January to see her family for the Lunar New Year. She was due to start an internship with a company in Hong Kong in early February but now can’t leave.

“I’m unsatisfied with the Wuhan government as they did not share timely information on the outbreak,” she said.

“I arrived in Shanghai from Milan on Jan 18, before going to Wuhan on Jan 19. At that time, the media and the government were all saying human-to-human transmission was limited.”

Ms Yu agreed that the lockdown was an effective way to control the spread of the virus but it had stranded people like her who happened to be in the city for a short time and were unlikely to have contracted the illness.

“I just wanted to spend a happy Lunar New Year. I never expected a lockdown that ended up affecting my career,” she said.

In the meantime, Ms Yu has joined a WeChat dating group set up for single people looking for romance while they wait out the outbreak. There are around 200 users in the group across China and some overseas.

“I’m in the group for entertainment, I don’t really believe in online dating,” she said.

She did meet a student who is based in Italy but they had not had much time to chat due to the time difference, Ms Yu added.

Wuhan residents are also killing time indoors making videos and posting them online, with some of the bigger hits involving dining table ping pong and festive lion dances using a bucket and a blanket.

At Wuhan University, where more than a couple of hundred foreign students are thought to be on campus, markets are still open and boxed dinners are being delivered.

“Dinner tonight was rice, barbecue chicken with potato, mushroom and vegetables… it’s tasty,” said Mr Rana Waqar Aslam, a doctoral student from the United Arab Emirates, adding that the food was Halal.

He said he still left campus to pick up some groceries but most students were limiting the time outside. He also hadn’t contacted his embassy about evacuation, but the lockdown did force him to cancel a planned trip around China.

“Obviously some people are panicking, but not everyone,” he said.

Dr Reza Sultanuzzaman, an assistant professor at Nanchang University in eastern Jiangxi province, is also limiting his time outdoors.

He returned to Wuhan, where his wife, a doctoral student and his four-year-old daughter live, for the Lunar New Year holiday before the city went into lockdown.

The family quickly stocked up on supplies and has stayed inside their flat for a week. They would need to stock up again soon, he said. “But we are scared to go out.”

The week in the flat has consisted of following the latest news, and trying to keep their child entertained playing dolls and watching cartoons.

Dr Sultanuzzaman, who is a volunteer coordinator for the Bangladeshi community in Wuhan, said there were around 370 Bangladeshi citizens, including around 20 children, in the city and they were waiting for approval from China’s foreign ministry for a flight out.

“We are concerned. All foreigners should evacuate, because if anyone is infected they have few options, because of the language barrier,” he said. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

Related topics

Wuhan virus coronavirus Wuhan pneumonia

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