This metropolis is at the heart of the epidemic which, since December, has infected more than 570 people and left 17 dead, according to a latest report. All the deceased died in Wuhan or its province, Hubei.
A symbol of concern that has gripped the country, the Forbidden City of Beijing, the former palace of the emperors, has announced its closure until further notice, to avoid any risk of contamination between visitors. On the eve of the long Chinese New Year holiday, the capital has already declared the cancellation of the festivities, which usually draw hundreds of thousands of onlookers to the parks to attend the traditional lion and dragon dance.
In Wuhan, “residents should not leave (the city) for no specific reason,” said the city’s headquarters responsible for fighting the epidemic. The move is made to “effectively stop the spread of the virus,” he said, as the New Year brings hundreds of millions of trips each year.
The neighboring city of Huanggang, 70 km east, which has a population of 7.5 million, is undergoing similar measures. Train traffic was to be stopped there until further notice from the end of the day. Nearby, Ezhou (1.1 million inhabitants) has already closed its station. To the west, another locality, Xiantao, closed access to a major thoroughfare, and to the south, Chibi suspended all public transportation. These two municipalities have more than 2 million inhabitants.
Taxis triple prices
It was still possible at the start of the day to reach Wuhan by train or plane, even if many flights were canceled. But trains like planes were almost empty, a strange sight on the eve of the New Year’s holiday, when they are usually taken by storm. In the city center, public transport was at a standstill and the New Years celebrations were canceled. Almost all of the businesses, including cafes and restaurants, were closed. Scooter deliverers, usually ubiquitous in major Chinese cities, were absent subscribers.
In the rain, the city was plunged into surreal calm for a Chinese metropolis, usually brimming with life as New Year approaches. Taxis have tripled their prices. “It is very dangerous to go out at the moment but we need money,” said a driver.
Asked about the soaring prices, the provincial governor, Wang Xiaodong, assured on television that “the reserves and the supply of markets are sufficient”. The town hall also imposed the wearing of a respiratory mask, which most of the inhabitants had in any case started to put on since the beginning of the week. The fight began when a Chinese scientist admitted that the virus could be transmitted from human to human, not just from animal to human. President Xi Jinping signaled the mobilization on Monday by calling for a “resolute” halt to the epidemic, which until then had not been in the headlines.
“Very very strong” measures
In Geneva, the director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, welcomed on Wednesday the “very, very strong” measures taken by China, believing that they would “reduce” the risks of spread outside of its borders. They intervened when WHO convened its emergency committee to decide whether the new virus constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern”.
With the experts unable to agree on the matter, WHO was scheduled to continue the meeting on Thursday from 11:00 GMT. WHO has so far used the term international emergency only for rare cases of epidemics requiring a vigorous global response, including H1N1 swine flu in 2009, Zika virus in 2016 and Ebola fever, which has ravaged part of West Africa from 2014 to 2016 and the DRC since 2018. The virus, of the same family as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), has spread to several countries in Asia and even the United United. Vietnam and Singapore have in turn announced cases of contamination. Body temperature controls have become widespread at several airports, including Dubai, one of the largest in the world, targeting all passengers from China, not just Wuhan. At the time of SARS in 2002-2003, WHO strongly criticized Beijing for delaying raising the alarm and trying to cover up the scale of the epidemic. SARS had killed 774 people worldwide, including 648 in China including Hong Kong. The crisis has brought down the financial markets, in Asia as in Europe, for fear of a slowdown in China, the second largest economy in the world. The Shanghai Stock Exchange lost nearly 3% and oil also lost ground.