Coronavirus Update: Chinese Cities Cancel Schools, Holiday Events

Jan 25, 2020
Originally published on January 25, 2020 1:43 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Chinese authorities are struggling to contain a potentially deadly coronavirus which originated in the city of Wuhan. Across the country, 46 million people are now essentially quarantined during that country's busiest travel season of the year, Lunar New Year.

We're joined now by NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing. Emily, thanks for being with us.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: How many cities now on lockdown?

FENG: It's at least 13 now, and that includes Wuhan, which is the city where the virus originated. As you mentioned, that's 46 million people under quarantine, and that doesn't include the 14,000 people they say they have under direct observation, plus the random temperature checks they're doing in hospitals and train stations across the country.

And all of this is coming during Lunar New Year, which is a holiday where people are supposed to be traveling and eating dinner with their family. But despite the inconvenience that all of this has caused, people are widely supportive, even if critics say some of these measures are coming a little too late.

The real problem now is the shortage of medical staff. Doctors in Hubei Province, which is where Wuhan is located and where the quarantine zone is, are working such crazy hours that some of them have had emotional breakdowns. One doctor actually died today of cardiac arrest. His colleagues say it was because of overwork. And so China is now sending doctors to Hubei to supplement. We'll see if it makes a difference.

SIMON: How prepared are authorities to deal with a long-term outbreak?

FENG: As of this week, they're very prepared. China's scarred by the memory of SARS, which belongs in the same family of the coronavirus that we're seeing today. It killed 800 people. It's a number that many say is higher than it needed to be. This time around, China's really leveraging its top-down economy. It can forcibly tell people, you can go to this place, you can't go to this place. It can tell companies to do certain things. Here's what Hubei's health authorities said at their last press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) (Unintelligible) Hubei and other larger pharmaceutical producers. We had meetings with them, make sure they showed there were still responsibilities. And also it's forbidden to stocking the masks and driving up the price. So they make their commitment to the public and also work hard to allocate the masks, make sure we have enough supply.

FENG: So they can do things like tell companies to control food prices. They forced airlines to cancel all flights for free, including mine. But the outbreak is getting more serious. Today we saw the first death of a doctor who had contracted the virus from a patient die. He was a 62-year-old doctor named Liang Wudong.

SIMON: NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing, thanks so much.

FENG: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.