What’s life like for residents of Wuhan?

The World
A worker amid a room of cots

Angela, an American who lives in Wuhan, China, with her family, and who asked not to use her full name for privacy reasons, is trying to keep the coronavirus outbreak in perspective. 

“You know, overall, me being locked in my house for however long — it’s not a crisis,” Angela said. 

Angela’s Chinese husband runs his business from their home in Wuhan, and she homeschools their son. 

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“Now, if my son contracts this or my husband and I do, yes, for me that will turn to that crisis level, but we’re being careful and staying home and washing my hands and wearing a mask when we do go out,” the Kansas native said. “I think the chances of [getting coronavirus] are minimal and just keeping it in perspective really helps.”

More than 20,000 people have contracted the virus, which first emerged in Wuhan, the capital of the central province of Hubei. The World Health Organization last week declared the flu-like virus a global emergency, and it has since spread to more than 20 other countries. 

Countries are taking extreme steps to prevent the spread of the virus. Some nations have closed borders with China, while in Wuhan, the city is in its second week of a virtual lockdown. 

People like Angela say that daily life is moving slowly, but they are still trying to create a sense of normalcy for themselves even under the circumstances. 

Still, Angela says, the health crisis is concerning. Her husband has relatives in the police force in Wuhan. “Them and doctors are on the front line. That makes me nervous that while we’re safely tucked in our house, they’re out helping people that are in need throughout all this,” she said. 

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The stories coming out of Wuhan are scary. Sick people are being turned away from hospitals. Doctors and nurses are overwhelmed and running out of supplies. Meanwhile, millions of residents in Wuhan are stuck in place under severe restrictions on movement.  

The most affected part of the city is near the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market where the coronavirus was first detected. Karl Jiang lives right across the street. He’s a master brewer at M18 Brewery. The brewery and the four bars it runs are all closed indefinitely, so Jiang is now finding himself fighting boredom, and trying to be useful. 

“I’m part of a volunteer group that formed online. We drive the doctors and nurses to and from work because there’s no public transportation now and most don’t have their own cars. I usually do two shifts a day, once in the morning and once at night, taking medical workers to the hospitals or delivering donations of masks and supplies to hospitals who need them.”

Jiang says recently he got a large donation of masks from a friend. He delivered them to Xiehe Hospital, where another friend is a doctor working with high-risk patients. They are struggling with a shortage of masks, Jiang said. He himself is taking lots of precautions on his trips around town.

“I work as a brewer, so I’m familiar with health and safety standards,” he said. “I don’t think my risk of contracting it is that high. We have hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, masks, gloves, caps, so when we go out we cover up completely and we disinfect.”

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Jiang says he’s been chatting with medical workers, asking them how they’re holding up under all the stress. “They’ve been really tired, but in the past few days medical support has come from outside and from the military, so they’ve been able to have a bit of a rest,” he said. “Those doctors have the most pressure on them because every day they’re coming in contact with people with the virus and worried that they’ll contract it or pass it to someone else.”

When he’s not driving medical workers around town, Jiang splits his time between following the updates on the virus and sending silly memes that find the humorous side to lockdown. One looks like a subway map, but the regular stops are instead just a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and computer. Another shows a scruffy man lying down with the caption, “Finally, couch potatoes are making a contribution to society.”

Many people like Jiang are using social media to lift each other’s spirits. WeChat groups are bringing people together who have never met in person. 

Angela, the American who homeschools her son, started a group for parents to share activities for kids, and others are offering online art classes for kids to interact together.

“That’s really helped. To be around calm people helps you stay calm,” she said.

One of the more moving moments of solidarity came on Jan. 27. The government asked residents to yell out of their windows, “Wuhan Jiayou!” or “Let’s go Wuhan!” at precisely 8 p.m. 

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Sara Platto, a veterinarian, is one of the many who joined in. She and her group of friends in Wuhan sent each other videos of the moment. 

“We sent video from different areas of Wuhan, it was so strong, so many people, it was literally everybody together — the whole city screaming ‘Wuhan Jiayou,’” Platto said. “It was really beautiful. I posted a message into the group, ‘You know guys we’re not in zombie land, we’re going to jiayou, we’re going to make it.”

Platto is from Italy and teaches animal behavior and welfare at Jianghan University. She says she’s stressed right now, but it’s not fear over contracting the virus.

“I’m not anxious about the epidemic, I’m anxious because I have to get a proposal in by Friday, and literally I’m at the beginning of writing the proposal. With the epidemic and the calling and everything and people asking questions, I have been delaying everything.”

Platto is also working with China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, a wildlife conservation nonprofit, to use the outbreak as an opportunity to push the government to ban non-conventional animals in restaurants and markets, like the one in which the first cases of this coronavirus were detected. 

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“They are saying to the government, ‘You see, do you need any more proof that maybe we should change something?’” she said. “Because of the situation this is another proof that certain habits and culture need to change.”

At home, Platto says her 12-year-old son is getting restless being cooped up inside all day. School was supposed to open Monday, but will remain closed for the near future. 

Still, Platto doesn’t have plans to leave the city at the moment. She said she could get on a flight out of Wuhan arranged by the Italian government, but is choosing not to. Wuhan is their home now, she said.

“If it was Ebola, I would send my son with a catapult to Italy — no waiting. But this virus has a 2.8% deadly influence — in these days the cases of people recovering are increasing. I believe it will get better soon,” she said.

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