In the midst of a lockdown unlike any the world has ever seen, some 35 million people in China spent the year’s most important holiday in a state of confusion, dread and anger over a heavy-handed government action to curb the spread of a SARS-like virus that has already reached the distant corners of the country.
The fear quotient rose further when authorities disclosed the death of a 36-year-old man in Wuhan, the epicentre of the new coronavirus, and two deaths in provinces far from that city of 11 million, Hebei and Heilongjiang, which borders Russia. Until then, only older people had died from the fast-spreading 2019-nCoV virus, which by early Friday evening had killed 26 people and infected 886 in China, including high-speed rail workers in Tianjin, a thousand kilometres from Wuhan.
It is killing 14 per cent of hospitalized patients, according to new research published by the University of Hong Kong, and is reaching a growing number of other countries, with newly confirmed cases in Vietnam and Singapore and a second case in the U.S., in Chicago. Chicago health authorities said the 60-year-old woman had travelled to Wuhan. On Friday afternoon, France announced two confirmed cases, the first, it says in Europe.
But much remains unknown about the virus, including who is most at risk – or why, exactly, Chinese authorities have locked down Wuhan and numerous surrounding cities.
Transportation has been restricted in 14 cities, and public spaces such as theatres and cafés have been closed in some areas. Flights and trains have been cancelled, commercial vehicles barred from entering Wuhan, highways and tunnels closed and ride-hailing services curbed across the broader region.