As It Happens

What it's like living in Wuhan, a Chinese city on lockdown over coronavirus

The streets should be bustling in Wuhan, one of China's biggest cities, as millions prepare for Lunar New Year celebrations. But the outbreak of coronavirus has turned it into a ghost town. 

'We don't know how long it's going to last,' says resident. 'I'm worried about the future'

Residents wear masks to buy vegetables in the market on Thursday in Wuhan. Flights, trains and public transport including buses, subway and ferry services have been temporarily closed and officials have asked residents to stay in town in order to help stop the outbreak of a strain of coronavirus. (Getty Images)

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The streets should be bustling in Wuhan as millions prepare for Lunar New Year celebrations. But the outbreak of coronavirus has turned one of China's biggest cities into a ghost town. 

The cities of Wuhan, Huanggang, and Ezhou — representing a total population of about 18 million people — have been put on a travel lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading, a public health measure that the World Health Organization called "unprecedented."

At least 17 people have died in the outbreak, all of them in and around Wuhan. More than 630 have been infected, the vast majority of them in Wuhan.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to a resident of Wuhan on Thursday. As It Happens has agreed not to use his name. Here is part of their conversation. 

What is life like in Wuhan right now? 

The city is totally shut down. ... People in Wuhan cannot go outside of the city, and other people cannot get in the city. 

Are you also afraid, given that the reason why you're quarantined like this is because of this coronavirus?

Yeah, of course. I think the fear, the degree of the fear is, like, the biggest so far in my life.

The whole city, 10 million people, they have this kind of fear and this kind of anxiety.

And so everyone who is out, you see them wearing masks. Is that right?

I think, like, 95 per cent of the people are wearing masks. But it was only, like, for maybe three days, because before that, people were not told that this could be so serious and so severe and so deadly. 

People wearing masks are seen on Jan. 20 at the Jinyintan hospital in Wuhan. (Reuters)

It seems to have originated in a market in Wuhan where they sell ... wild animals, domestic living animals. Do you know that market?

I was very familiar with it because two years ago, I lived just maybe, like, 10 minutes' walk from that market.

Why would that become such a place for spreading this disease?

The market is located very near to Hankou Train Station, which is the biggest train station in central China. So, you know, every day, lots of people go there.

And the market is very big one. ... It's a mixture of everything. You can buy fruits, you can buy seafood, you can buy poultry and also, just like you said, you can buy wild animals.

Do you know anybody who is sick?

No, not yet. 

I just was listening to a news report that said that people who are going to the hospital, they're waiting in line for hours and even then, [it's] hard to see anybody, that the health-care professionals are just overwhelmed with people. Do you know anything about that?

Just several hours ago, I heard that the government had made a decision to build a temporary hospital ... just for all the patients, and it could be a very, very big one.

That means they must be expecting a lot more cases of people who get sick.


Does that worry you?

Yes, of course. 

I've been worrying about this case for like almost a month ... because, you know, for me, I can read English, I log onto different social networks, I have friends all over the world. So I know the information. But for lots of people, they couldn't really get access to information.

A worker sanitizes the square in front of the Hankou Railway Station, closed after the city of Wuhan was locked down following the outbreak of a new coronavirus. (China Daily/Reuters)

Are people trusting what the authorities are telling them?

I think the trust has been, well, decreasing dramatically after this case.

What were people saying to you about that?

Young people, of course, they know. They feel so frustrated. And middle aged [and] elderly people, after this case, I think ... they may feel so frustrated and disappointed about the local government.

Because you can read English, are you learning things about the crises that other people aren't able to read or know because they don't speak English?

Of course. They don't speak English, and another important thing is that they couldn't really get access [to] other social networks, like Facebook. We use WeChat, so most of their information has already been deleted or filtered.

I think English is a very important issue, and also free internet is even more important.

You're not going to have much of a Lunar New Year, are you? Not much of a spring festival.

Unusually, it's time that relatives would visit each other for at least one or two weeks. But now ... we just send messages to each other, so that this time we don't go to each other's apartment for the spring festival. Maybe we'll leave it until this crisis [has] ended. 

Well, I hope that the worst that happens to you is being bored.

We have a laptop. We have a cellphone. It's OK for, at least, you know, for half a month. But ... we don't know how long it's going to last. So, yeah, I'm worried about the future.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters and The Associated Press. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. 


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