Officials go door to door in city of 11 million, with threat of punishment for delays in reporting symptoms
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Verna Yu in Hong Kong – The Guardian
The citywide coronavirus inspection campaign indicates an escalation of the situation in Wuhan. It came as a senior doctor died in the city at the centre of the outbreak. Photograph: STRINGER/EPA
One of Wuhan’s most senior doctors has died after contracting coronavirus, as authorities began a sweeping campaign inside the city to seek out patients infected with the deadly virus.
“Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuhan Wuchang hospital, died at 10.30am this morning after resuscitation efforts failed,” reported the China Central Television’s microblog.
Confirmation also emerged of the death of Xu Depu, the former director of the Ezhou city Chinese medicine hospital in Hubei province, from the virus on Thursday last week. A nurse at the hospital on Tuesday confirmed his death, as reported in Red Star news, an outlet under state newspaper Chengdu Commercial Daily.
The deaths came as state media reported new house-to-house checks in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people at the centre of the outbreak, that aimed to seek out and “round up” all infected patients. State media said anyone suspected of having the virus would face mandatory testing and anyone who had close contact with virus patients would be put under quarantine.
Residents who are confirmed to have the virus will be taken to quarantine centres, including hotels and student dormitories.
The report said all communities and villages would be placed under around-the-clock “closed-off” management, in effect putting them under lockdowns. From Tuesday, anyone who buys cough medicine or treatments to bring down a fever in chemists or online will need to use their ID card, state-funded site The Paper reported.
The citywide inspection campaign indicates an escalation of the situation in Wuhan, where former officials have been blamed for a cover-up that led to the rapid spread of the virus. Health officials have reported nearly 50,000 confirmed cases in Hubei alone.
The draconian measures come after two of the city’s top leaders were sacked last week. Wuhan’s new Communist party chief, Wang Zhonglin, issued the new decree, according to the Global Times, an English-language state newspaper.
Officials would carry out the inspection with the help of big data and artificial intelligence, it said, without giving details.
An order on Monday from the Wuhan city legislature on “winning the coronavirus war” warned that people who refused mandatory measures such as reporting cases of fever and cough to their local residential committees or going into quarantine if they were sick would be subject to “coercive measures”.
The order also said those who delayed reporting cases, or “fabricate and spread false information on the epidemic” would be punished.
Footage circulated on the website of the Changjiang Daily, a paper run by Wuhan’s Communist party, showing officers in protective clothing knocking on people’s doors and checking their temperatures.
“We’re racing with time. This is a heated war of annihilation, not a relaxed protracted war,” a narrator says. “It’s a painful process but the fight must be fought imminently. The temporary lockdown is for the sake of our reunion in the near future. Wuhan will be bustling again soon.”
Wuhan residents complained about the draconian lockdown on social media. “We’re not allowed to go out at all, we’ve lost our most basic human rights. The guards are like prison guards, abusing the little bit of power they have. We’re guaranteed personal freedoms under the constitution!” said one in a post on microblogging site Weibo.
Another social media user also said “it feels like being in prison” as she was barred from going out, even going out for a stroll in the neighbourhood.
The death of whistleblowing doctor Li Wenliang, who alerted colleagues over a mysterious disease that turned out to be the coronavirus, this month unleashed an outpouring of anger and grief across the nation. Wuhan police detained and censured him last month for “spreading false rumours”.
As in the case of Li’s death, there was initial confusion in China about Liu’s condition. On Monday night, the Communist party propaganda department of the Hubei Health Commission wrote in a social media post that Liu had died. It then said in a subsequent post that Liu was alive.
“According to Liu’s relative, the hospital is still trying its best to resuscitate him,” the commission said in the second post, adding that the previous misinformation was from a good friend of Liu who was not aware of the latest situation.
Although the number of people contracting coronavirus outside Hubei province has dropped for 13 consecutive days, the situation inside Hubei continues to be serious, reported Global Times.
Restrictions were tightened further in Hubei on Sunday with vehicles, apart from those delivering essential services, banned from the roads and companies told to stay shut until further notice. The notice also included locking down all residential communities in urban and rural areas, and closing all non-essential public places.
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang