Coronavirus

This Wuhan Resident Shares What it's Like Living in the Epicentre of the Coronavirus Outbreak

“The outside world does not completely understand the predicament we’re in.”
18 February 2020, 5:59am
Wuhan resident, coronavirus, lockdown, experience
Photo courtesy of Liu Gangjian 

As of 18 February, there have been more than 1,860 deaths from the novel coronavirus(COVID-19). Over 72,400 people have been infected in China.

But let’s be brutally honest. For the rest of us who aren’t in China right now, how important are these numbers? As figures continue to increase daily, every death and confirmed case fed to us mean less and less. Statistics of human lives tell us surprisingly little about human life in the epicentre of a global contagion.

On January 23, Wuhan was forced into lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. According to the city’s Mayor Zhou Xianwang, 5 million people managed to leave Wuhan before the lockdown, but at least 9 million people remain. And they’re trying to continue with life amidst the chaos that the coronavirus has unleashed.

Widely circulated photos paint an official picture of life in the city — hospitals getting built in record time, mask-clad residents walking down the street, medical personnel going about their never-ending duties. Together, they form a convincing image of collective action and reaction to the coronavirus at the frontline.

But what does life really look like for the ordinary folks of Wuhan?

VICE spoke with 42-year-old Liu Gangjian, a Wuhan resident and volunteer resource deliveryman, about how he put his life on hold and braves the virus every day in the isolated epicentre of the latest global health crisis.

Resident in Wuhan during coronavirus outbreak

Photo provided by Liu Gangjian

VICE: How was Chinese New Year different this year because of the coronavirus?

Liu: Regular people stay at home, according to the government’s instructions. It was Chinese New Year after all, so there would have been no work anyway. Every Chinese New Year, there's nothing to do besides eating and visiting relatives. But the coronavirus struck suddenly, so the visiting, eating, and travelling stopped.

What have you been up to since Wuhan began its lockdown?

I began volunteering on the third day of Chinese New Year (January 27). I am in charge of connecting with hospitals and handing out resources. Now I volunteer everyday.

Do you interact directly with coronavirus patients?

I’m mostly in charge of delivering resources to hospitals. Without professional medical knowledge about virus prevention, it’s not very wise to interact directly with patients. There are medical volunteers who tend directly to the patients.

How did you feel when you first learnt about the coronavirus?

Definitely terrified. At first there was limited information about the coronavirus, and when the contagion broke out it made us feel panicky. But I learnt more about the virus. The government also made information more accessible. When I started volunteering at the frontline, I began to understand the situation better, and became less afraid.

How do you feel about it now?

We can’t see the virus, and there is no cure for it, so psychologically, we do feel scared. Everyone has some fear of death, I believe. My family is definitely worried too. But Wuhan is our home. We have to fight for our home.

Do you know anyone who has been infected?

Not my friends or immediate family, but I do know of people who have been infected. There are those who have died, those who are in the hospital right now, and those who have recovered.

How are you dealing with the contagion?

We have to protect ourselves from the virus with scientific methods, and take precautions like avoiding crowded places and washing our hands diligently. The pathway of virus transmission is clear. If we take sufficient precautions, it will definitely help.

What does Wuhan look like right now?

The streets are super empty, because everyone is staying at home.

Is there anything you want to tell people who are curious about Wuhan right now?

We’re in the epicentre of the epidemic. The outside world does not completely understand the predicament we’re in. Wuhan people are actually pretty optimistic. We have a warm culture. There are all kinds of people in this city. It’s a very gruff and forthcoming culture. I think we’re still okay. We don’t have any food shortages.

When you’re not volunteering, how do you spend your time?

Well, you can take a look at my WeChat posts.

Wuhan resident coronavirus experience WeChat post

This post from February 10 reads: “I went home and scrubbed myself clean, gobbled down two bowls of rice, then lay on the sofa and watched a few movies. I’m not shaving my beard until the epidemic is over.” Image from Liu Gangjian on WeChat.

Car of Wuhan resident during coronavirus experience

This post from February 16 reads: “Going home to play video games.” Image from Liu Gangjian on WeChat.

Wuhan apartment during coronavirus experience

This post from February 16 reads: “I’ve lost interest in video games. Let me stare into space for a while!” Image from Liu Gangjian on WeChat.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Find Koh Ewe on Instagram.