Western media organizations have published a series of in-depth reports attempting to illuminate what life on the ground at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak looks like. But few have captured the atmosphere of the situation quite like a team of AFP journalists who lingered in Wuhan after the lockdown, and have detailed their experiences in diary format.
The diary begins on Jan. 23, the day Wuhan was placed under lockdown. It starts as one might expect: Though the news was a shock, few tried to escape the city before the lockdown officially went into effect. Police chase the last travelers out of the railroad station.
But the situation doesn’t really start to escalate until Jan. 25, or New Year’s Day in China.
Those who went to worship at the city’s Guiyan temple, normally packed this time of year, found it empty: nobody was allowed inside.
“No-one is allowed inside in order to prevent the virus spreading,” a uniformed man – who is not wearing the compulsory mask – tells AFP.
On the fourth day of the crackdown, conditions in Wuhan really started to deteriorate. This marked the beginning of hard times for Wuhan. Overwhelmed hospitals arbitrarily turned people away if their swab tests came back negative for the virus. One man told an AFP reporter that he had been turned away by four hospitals, despite being seriously ill. “I haven’t slept,” he said. He was getting ready to wait in line all night to hopefully be admitted to another hospital.
For the first in their memory, the AFP reporters said Chinese out on the streets approached them to complain about the government’s handling of the lockdown.
“Like a horror film,” says one witness, who tells AFP bodies were left unattended for hours.
About 20 kilometers from the center for the city, police had set up roadblocks around the city’s perimeter. Nurses and other reinforcements were let in to help the exhausted medical personnel staffing the city’s hospitals.
By day five, all non-essential traffic had been banned from the city. Taxis have been requisitioned by the state to help transport people to hospitals.