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Almost 800 kilometres from Wuhan, on the outskirts of a little-known city of three million in Shaanxi province, newly erected borders have surrounded villages in the Chinese countryside.
Here, as in rural areas of Guangdong province and even more distant parts of China, an unofficial lockdown has kept unknown people from entering.
The SARS-like Wuhan virus, which has now killed 100 and infected nearly 3,000 in China with pneumonia-like symptoms, has prompted a response unlike any in modern history. Chinese authorities have locked down tens of millions of people in cities and towns around Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the virus is believed to have originated in a market selling wild animals.
On Sunday, a ban on all trade in wild animals came into effect. Schools across the country have delayed the resumption of classes, and the government has extended the Lunar New Year holiday, known in China as the Spring Festival, until Feb. 2 in an effort to slow postholiday travel, which could spread the virus.
Military medics and doctors from across the country have been rushed to Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Wuhan on Monday wearing a mask and medical gown. Only one airport in Hubei remains open.
But widespread fear of the virus has prompted local officials across the country to establish regional and even village bans that have brought travel and commerce to a standstill far from Wuhan.
Outside Baoji, villages have shut down their roads and entrances, a ride-sharing driver said Monday. Only local residents can enter after a body temperature check. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the driver because of the political sensitivity of the situation in China. Similar restrictions were in place in Beijing’s Miyun district, near crumbling stretches of the Great Wall, and as far away as southern Guangdong province.
“The atmosphere now is such that everyone believes they are in great danger – and we are all on alert,” he said. He was wearing a mask and said his company ordered him to disinfect his car every morning. He was told to continue driving, but he was worried: “There’s no doubt that driving at a time like this is risky,” he said. ”I know there’s a danger of being infected.”
At the Baoji People’s Hospital, 50 to 60 people a day were being moved to specialized fever care, based on their symptoms or their exposure to either Wuhan or people who had travelled there, said Lu Chunhong, who works in the hospital’s triage department. “In the past, we didn’t specifically separate people with virus-related fever from normal patients,” Ms. Lu said.
The director of the hospital’s communications office said no confirmed cases had been identified in Baoji. But even if there were, the hospital does not have the authority to disclose it to the public, said the official, who declined to provide her name.
Long-distance buses transporting people across provincial boundaries have been barred in Shanghai, Beijing and the nearby city of Tianjin, as well as in the provinces of Zhejiang, Anhui and Qinghai. People bought large stocks of masks from as far away as the United States to send to family members in China.
Across the country, local authorities placed people who had travelled to Wuhan under 14-day quarantine. Some five million people had left Wuhan for Lunar New Year travel, Mayor Zhou Xianwang said in an interview with China’s state broadcaster. He admitted that the city had not revealed information about the virus in a timely manner, but said municipal authorities needed authorization to make such disclosures. Mr. Zhou became the subject of widespread mockery by citizens who said that he gave the interview with his mask upside down.
The new details about the extent of travel from Wuhan only served to heighten fears across China.
In Xi’an, the city famous as the gateway to China’s Terracotta Warriors, highway exits featured temperature checkpoints. Local authorities shut down entry points without medical inspection facilities.
Closer to Wuhan, meanwhile, families struggled to get medical care as virologists at the University of Hong Kong released a new study on Monday based on modelling that estimated as many as 44,000 people in the city may already be infected.
One man, who gave his name only as Mr. Wang, described trying to obtain treatment for his father and grandfather, both of whom displayed the coughing, fever and other symptoms of the 2019-nCoV virus.
“We’ve reached out to all the designated hospitals in Wuhan for help, but in vain,” Mr. Wang said. His family lives a 20-minute drive from the market where the virus is believed to have originated – and his grandfather has visited that market.
Chinese authorities have flown in thousands of military and civilian medical reinforcements, and local hospitals have posted signs saying wait times have fallen to several hours. Local health authorities have launched 24-hour online health consultation services.
But “I called the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission and was told that not a single hospital in the city could accept us," Mr. Wang said on Monday. "The reason, they said, is that ‘all of the hospitals are full.’” It could take five days to see a doctor, he was told.
Hospitals refused to see his father and grandfather because they had not been diagnosed with the virus. But “we were told by the hospital that there are no diagnostic kits left. So the disease cannot be confirmed.”
In desperation, he posted about his predicament on social media – one of billions of posts in recent days about the Wuhan virus.
“All I want to do,” he said, ”is to get treatment for my dad and grandpa.”
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