Many blame the Chinese government’s slow reaction and attempts to suppress initial information about the coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV. Meanwhile, Chinese churches are handing out what medical supplies they have and sharing the gospel in their communities.
The first wave of people infected with the coronavirus in December had connections with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, which sold not only seafood but also wild animals. Scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans through meat sold at that market.
On Dec. 30, Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang messaged his medical school classmates about the mysterious illness, The New York Times reported. But officials from the city’s health authority summoned Li and forced him to sign a statement that he would stop spreading rumors. Authorities sanctioned seven others for the same reason.
After the rumors spread, Wuhan’s health commission admitted 27 people had an unknown type of pneumonia but stressed “the disease is preventable and controllable.” It alerted the World Health Organization of the cases. On Jan. 1, police shut down the market and sent workers in hazmat suits to disinfect the stalls, the Times reported. But even as officials denied the virus could be transmitted between humans, patients’ relatives and medical professionals started to get sick. Li himself become infected after treating a patient with the virus and later died, leading to an outcry on Chinese social media.
Meanwhile, officials were gathering for the annual People’s Congress and wanted to paint a positive picture of their city. Wuhan’s mayor didn’t mention the virus, instead focusing on future healthcare plans. In mid-January, the city went ahead with a Chinese New Year feast for 40,000 families.
The dam finally burst on Jan. 20, when renowned epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan said in a TV interview that the coronavirus did spread through human contact. With the number of deaths increasing and the virus spreading overseas, President Xi Jinping made his first public statement on the virus, allowing lower officials to admit the problem and seek a solution. Their answer: contain the outbreak at all costs.
Three days later, Wuhan completely shut down. Authorities blocked travel into and out of the city, banned most public transportation, and asked citizens to stay indoors. Hospitals quickly filled up, running out of testing kits and medical supplies. The city began construction on two new hospitals, one of which opened this week.
The lockdown, which extended to other cities in Hubei and restricts more than 50 million people, came right before Chinese New Year—the biggest travel week of the year. Hundreds of millions of people get on trains, planes, and buses to reunite with their families in their hometowns. Before the shutdown, 5 million residents had left Wuhan for the holiday and to flee the virus, according to Wuhan’s mayor Zhou Xianwang.
Zhou claimed responsibility for the delayed response, but also blamed the central government: “As a local government official, I can only disclose this information after I’ve obtained approval to do so.”
Amid the global emergency, Chinese citizens are increasingly incensed at the government’s handling of the situation, as they believe China’s initial cover-up hurt efforts to stop its spread. A young man in Wuhan made a desperate plea on a YouTube video posted Jan. 25, claiming the Chinese government had abandoned the city and describing the dire conditions in the city’s hospitals.