Chinese virus: Wuhan, a 'ghost town'
by Wang Zhicheng

From 10 this morning trains, buses, ferries and planes blocked. Medical checks on the roads for those who leave the city by car. Obligation to wear medical masks in public places. Hospitals are overcrowded with patients.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – As of  10 this morning the city of Wuhan (Hubei), the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, has been effectively isolated to prevent the spread of the disease. All public transport to and from Wuhan - including trains, buses and ferries - is blocked. Departures from the airport are also closed.

A government announcement says that "residents should not leave Wuhan except for special reasons. Departures from Wuhan at airports and railway stations will also be temporarily closed." No specified date for the end of the quarantine has been given.

Authorities require residents to wear health masks in public places, including parks, cinemas, museums, shopping malls and restaurants. Yesterday many people fled to the train and bus stations to leave the city before the travel ban was enforced.

So far, the coronavirus epidemic has killed 17 people. Official data state that there are 571 cases of infection across the country, of which 444 in Hubei. But according to foreign and Hong Kong experts, thousands are infected. According to Hubei doctors, there may be up to 6,000 cases of infection.

Teams of medical personnel are positioned at highway intersections and at the junctions of the main arteries for health checks on those who leave the city. Wuhan is described as a "ghost town": a few days before the Lunar New Year, the streets are empty, as are the restaurants and shopping centers.

According to yesterday's Beijing News, Wuhan hospitals are overcrowded with people who have fever and flu symptoms and who have to queue for hours on end even at night. The transfusion rooms are full of patients; many of them are content with a chair in the corridor while they are attached to an IV.

The coronavirus epidemic broke out just as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel on their lunar new year holiday, with waves of migrant workers returning home to spend family holidays.

According to health authorities, the disease has now become a "community epidemic". Transmission is no longer only due to contact with the epicenter of the virus, the Wuhan seafood market, but is spreading in families, hospitals and public places.