At the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic, an elderly man lies dead on the pavement after collapsing in a street in Wuhan. The central Chinese city is home to 11 million people, but on January 23 the Chinese government put the entire city under lockdown, suspending all buses, trains, flights and ferries.
In the following week the lockdown was extended to multiple cities in Hubei province – the central Chinese province that has bore the brunt of the outbreak so far. There are now 45 million people living under quarantine throughout Hubei province.
But with the lockdown entering its second week and the outbreak showing no signs of slowing down, tens of millions of Chinese citizens are having to adjust to life under quarantine. These photos gives a glimpse inside Wuhan, the isolated city at the heart of the global epidemic.
Coronavirus struck just as the world’s largest mass migration – the Lunar New Year – was getting under way. Announced at 02:00 on January 23, over 300,000 people left the city by train before the quarantine became effective at 10:00, according to a now-deleted social media post from Wuhan Railway.
Three days later the Chinese government banned all non-essential vehicles from the downtown region of Wuhan. According to China Daily, an English-language newspaper owned by the Chinese Communist Party, the government has recruited a fleet of 6,000 taxis to help people get around the city now that public transport has been suspended.
A security guard stands outside Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market – the market thought to be the origin of some of the first coronavirus infections. The seafood market is a wet market, where fish, poultry and other animals are slaughtered on the premise and live animals are sold, including cats, dogs, turtles, snakes, rats and marmots. One theory about the disease’s origin is that it began in a live animal at the market before jumping into humans.
The market was shut down on January 1 for inspection and decontamination, shortly after the first cases of the virus were reported to the World Health Organisation. But it might not be the only source of the virus. The earliest known person infected with coronavirus, a patient who fell ill on December 1, 2019, had no link to the seafood market at all. Of the early cases, 13 of them had no link to the market either, suggesting that there may be an early or alternative origin of the infection.
On January 24 work began to build a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan to treat victims of the coronavirus epidemic. The hospital, which is being built out of prefabricated buildings around a holiday complex originally intended for local workers, is set to be completed by February 5.
China already has experience at building vast hospitals in short timescales. During the 2003 Sars outbreak, 7,000 workers rushed to complete a new hospital outside of Beijing in just eight days. Within two months, the hospital had treated a seventh of the country’s Sars patients.
Medical staff wearing protective clothing help treat patients arriving at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital on January 25. Of the 9,800 confirmed cases in China, most of them are within Hubei province and all of the deaths so far from the virus have happened within China.
It is likely that the real number of infected people is much higher than official numbers suggest, as many people with mild symptoms might not report to medical authorities and others may be unaware they are ill at all. Epidemiologists modelling the spread of the disease estimate that by next week there may be as many as 200,000 cases. Another estimate from Northeastern university in the United States suggests that the number of infected in Wuhan city may be as high as 25,000.
Reports from within Wuhan describe empty supermarket shelves and food shortages, but some residents are determined to keep some semblance of normality. This photo from January 31 shows a street vendor selling raw fish in an alley in central Wuhan. It was taken a day after the World Health Organisation officially declared coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern – only the sixth outbreak in the last decade to gain such a designation.
Matt Reynolds is WIRED’s science editor. He tweets from @mattsreynolds1
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