One of the most haunting images to come out of Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, is of a distressed woman in an upper floor apartment banging a homemade gong and wailing for help. “There’s nothing I can do, please can someone come to help us,” the woman, pleads from her balcony, in a video that went viral. The plight of the woman, whose sick mother had been denied a hospital bed, is one of the countless horror stories emerging from Wuhan and surrounding cities. Authorities have placed about 70m people in the area under lockdown to prevent the spread of the country’s worst viral outbreak since Sars 17 years ago.
Other videos from Wuhan have shown what seems to be bodies in a minibus outside a Wuhan hospital, makeshift quarantine centers in shopping centers and trucks using water cannon to spray clouds of disinfectant over the streets. Faced with rising discontent with the local authorities’ handling of the outbreak, Xi Jinping this week fired the Wuhan and provincial Communist party heads in one of the most senior shake-ups of the Chinese president’s seven-year rule.
But the new party bosses will have their work cut out regaining the trust of a deeply traumatized population. The local government has not only been accused of covering up the early stages of the outbreak but also of providing inadequate medical care, with hospitals overwhelmed and those terminally ill with diseases other than the coronavirus neglected.
Following public anger over the persecution and death of a whistleblower doctor, Beijing has reluctantly allowed some reporting on the outbreak by officially recognized media. But it has been cracking down on others – two citizen journalists who were covering the outbreak in Wuhan have disappeared. “There is not enough medicine or healthcare, and a large number of patients have died because they weren’t treated in time,” said Zhang Renqiang, a Wuhan resident. “We just stay at home and self-quarantine, waiting for the grim reaper.”
As of Friday, there were almost 64,000 cases and nearly 1,400 deaths in China, most of them in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.