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Dispatches from a Quarantined City
- Read in 13 minutes
- Audio & text available
- Contains 8 key ideas
Wuhan Diary (2020) is a collection of online essays by celebrated Chinese writer Fang Fang. They were published daily throughout Wuhan’s 76-day coronavirus lockdown. A fascinating and intimate report from the frontline, this diary chronicles the very beginnings of the pandemic that soon swept the world.
Key idea 1 of 8
The government initially played down the crisis, so the quarantine order came as a shock.
Many people outside China first heard about the coronavirus pandemic in February 2020. But in Wuhan, people knew something was “up” much earlier.
Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei Province in China, is one of the country’s largest industrial hubs. It’s also the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
The key message here is: The government initially played down the crisis, so the quarantine order came as a shock.
Author Fang Fang has lived in Wuhan for over 60 years. She first heard rumors of a strange new virus in December 2019 – weeks before the rest of the world found out about it. The information was patchy since Chinese media is heavily censored. Privately, people had started sharing videos of the closed Huanan Seafood Market, where the virus first broke out. One online post claimed that this new pathogen was related to earlier SARS viruses. But for a long time, the official line was that people had nothing to worry about.
By January 10, intensive care beds in many hospitals were filling up with coronavirus patients. But the people of Wuhan remained in the dark.
The government sent two teams of specialists to investigate. They inspected the Wuhan Central Hospital, located closest to the seafood market. Afterward one of the specialists, Dr. Wang, made a public statement, describing the virus in eight fateful words. The virus, he said, was “not contagious between people, it’s controllable and preventable.” This would prove to be a tragic misconception.
The media never probed further. Instead, it followed the government’s official assessment of the situation. The press repeated Dr. Wang’s eight-word statement over and over. Journalists chronicled various mass events in the city – like a government banquet at which 40,000 people celebrated the New Year – without critique.
The day after this banquet, infectious disease specialist Dr. Zhong Nanshan revealed that the virus could be transmitted between people after all. By then, the government could no longer conceal the severity of the situation. To stop the spread of the virus, the authorities ordered a complete lockdown of the city beginning on January 23. For many people in Wuhan, the quarantine order came as a confirmation of their worst fears.
The author remembers the panic she felt over the first few days of the lockdown. Along with 11 million other Wuhanese, she was stuck at home. For weeks, she would have nothing to do – except write about her new experience.