As the coronavirus health epidemic spreads around the globe, we get perspective on the feeling from the ground in Wuhan as the Chinese government locks down the city and its citizens suffer the consequences.
The Spring Festival is annually a big traditional festival for Chinese all over the world. The holiday of Lunar New Year in 2020 started on January 24 and was to continue until January 30. However, on January 27, it was announced by China, the State Council General Office, that the Spring Festival holiday will be extended until February 2, to contain the coronavirus outbreak according to Xinhuanews.
Since the morning of January 23, Wuhan and another 12 cities in China have been put on lockdown until an uncertain date. All buses, trains, undergrounds, planes and ships out of Wuhan have been halted. According to Mayor Zhou Xianwang, 5 million people had already left Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, travelling home or abroad for the new year celebrations, before the government blockade, which could be a concern for the transmission of the disease.
There is a slight difference between the coronavirus and SARS, the last coronavirus outbreak in China from 2002 to 2003, and the Ebola virus, an outbreak which occurred mainly in Western Africa. The coronavirus can spread before symptoms show in a person, whereas people with SARS and Ebola are contagious only when symptoms appear. Moreover, the incubation period for the coronavirus can be more than 14 days.
People from countries around China, like Taiwan, and some Chinese citizens are hesitant to believe the ‘good news’ being promoted about the situation by official media, which is controlled by the Chinese government. Daily life is being filmed by citizens and journalists living in Wuhan and uploaded to online platforms, such as YouTube or Twitter.
One journalist who went to Wuhan posted his findings online. Besides the serious shortage of protective masks, there are many locals who are not aware of the importance of protection. Even though it is mandatory to do so, there are people on the streets, and even in hospitals, not following protocol during this critical time.
Through online videos, locals denied the rumour that water, gas and internet are being cut off, however, while the blockade impinges upon locals’ right to work or get out of the city before it is lifted, thankfully, the bank informed them that their mortgage payments can be postponed. Additionally, more and more people are suffering from discrimination from people who are becoming panicked and provoked to unusual behaviour. Some Chinese citizens who got off work for a week of celebrations and have travelled from Wuhan are being treated badly by their neighbours; being insulted, their doors being daubed with “xxx is coming from Wuhan”, even being locked down at home with wood planks barring their doors all across China.
Also, people are worried that before the blockade, if they had been outside in crowded public places their families would have been infected during the incubation period of the disease. They are afraid to buy groceries, forbidden to go outside. Most people are keeping themselves isolated even if they have no apparent symptoms, as if they have had contact with a patient who has confirmed coronavirus.
People are experiencing this terrible desperation and trying to convey the truth via online media. Local issues are arising from how people travelling from Wuhan are being treated.. All these problems could lead to chaos rather than peace. Staying at home for such a long time has a negative impact on people’s minds; at 8pm on January 27, the fifth day of enforced isolation, locals decided to open their windows and shout. People were encouraging each other and singing the national anthem. However, this was considered by the government to be a dangerous action since the disease could be transmitted through droplets in the air.
In the short term, we may see the signs of mental breakdown happening to people. In the long term, it could result in more difficulties arising in these locked-down cities. No one knows when the darkness is going to end.