Wuhan goes into lockdown as coronavirus infections double

Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强 gave the work report, but here’s the guy really in charge: General Secretary Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 strides into the opening meeting of the National People’s Congress this morning.
/ Credit: Image source: Xinhua.

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Map of reported 2019-nCoV infections in China, according to DXY.cn.

Since our report for Access members 24 hours ago, the number of officially reported infections of the novel Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) within China has nearly doubled from 300 to about 550, and the number of reported deaths — all of them in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province — has nearly tripled from six to 17.

A live count of infections, meticulously compiled from individual state media reports, can be found on the Chinese medical community website DXY.cn (丁香园 dīng xiāng yuán).

In a few hours, the city of Wuhan will go into lockdown, with all public transportation in the city and departing the city shut down until further notice. Our translation of the city’s statement (in Chinese):

Starting from 2020/1/23 at 10 a.m., the city is suspending operation of all public transportation, subways, ferries, and intercity transportation; without a special reason, residents must not leave Wuhan. All departure routes at airports and train stations are closed for the time being. The time of resumption of service will be separately announced.

This is a huge deal, coming days before the Lunar New Year festivities begin. Wuhan is the seventh-largest Chinese city, with a population of 11 million — more than New York City.

  • Nearly 1 million college students from around the country study in Wuhan, and are now stuck in the city for the holidays, according to the New York Times. A separate New York Times article has quotes from several Chinese families who have already canceled travel plans before the lockdown was announced.
  • Wuhan sits at the center of transportation networks in China, as this visual explainer from the South China Morning Post shows. This partly explains the speed with which the virus has spread, and the impact that shutting down this transit hub will have.

However, the World Health Organization declined to officially declare the Wuhan coronavirus an emergency today. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said that “we need more information” before making such a decision, CNN reports. For more information on what a WHO designation of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) would mean, see this article in Stat News.

More news about the Wuhan coronavirus:

“The Wuhan coronavirus most likely came from snakes, according to a paper published Wednesday in the Journal of Medical Virology,” Sixth Tone reports. The SCMP’s visual explainer includes a chart of animals for sale at the market thought to be the source of the outbreak.

Taiwan has banned visitors from Wuhan, whether they are coming as individual travelers or in groups, Focus Taiwan reports. The Wall Street Journal says, “Taiwan’s first reported case of a patient infected by a deadly coronavirus spreading across Asia turns a spotlight on Beijing’s attempts to exclude the self-governing island from the World Health Organization, which Taiwanese officials say hinders an effective global response to public-health crises.”

North Korea appears to be closing its border to Chinese tourists, whom it depends on for cash, to prevent the spread of the virus, the New York Times reports (porous paywall).

Local newspapers are covering the epidemic, but central state media outlets appear to still be focused on churning out their daily quota of praise for “Comrade Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 at the core of the Party,” the China Media Project observes.  

The virus has “spurred a run on protective face masks and hand sanitizer, with store shelves stripped and re-sellers hawking the items for inflated prices,” Bloomberg reports (porous paywall).

The information floodgates remained shut until January 17 because two major political conferences in Wuhan lasted from January 7 to 17, according to Dali Yang of the University of Chicago. Last week, we noted that through Friday, January 17, there were suspiciously few updates about the spread of the virus — the need for the appearance of social stability during these meetings was likely why.

—Lucas Niewenhuis