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Chinese Catholic in Wuhan says epicentre of novel coronavirus marked by a ‘weird quiet’

Caution everywhere: A staff member checks the temperature of a passenger entering a Beijing subway station on January 28 as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus. Photo: CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters

THE streets are empty, people stay indoors and a “horrifying silence” has gripped Wuhan, at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

The central Chinese city of 11 million people has been under quarantine lockdown since January 23, with no transport links in or out, and residents facing food queues and shortages of essential supplies including face masks. 

Across China, nearly 60 million people remain under lockdown.

In a matter of weeks, the number of coronavirus deaths in China has surpassed the 2003 SARS epidemic. 

A Catholic Leader reader – who lives in Wuhan and must remain anonymous – said he ventured out at dawn to search for food at local stalls, and to get some daily exercise.

“It is very calm, no noise, not like a warzone,” our source said.

Amidst this “weird quiet” he said evening television news bulletins presented a glossy, upbeat view of the situation, with hospital medical staff praised for their efforts and local officials encouraged to do everything possible to control the situation.

“Today a new hospital with 1000 beds will open at the other side of the city,” the source said. 

“It received lots of coverage on the news last night and is likely to get similar headlines tonight.

“However, 1000 new beds is not going to make much of an impression.

“On Saturday there were over 2000 new cases.”

The sheer numbers of new cases means that many people who contract the coronavirus are being turned away from hospitals and face the frightening prospect of going home, amongst their own families for treatment.

“This is surely a frightening prospect,” our source said.

“The medical system is really under pressure.”

Our source also cites video footage posted on social media that shows body bags, apparently with bodies in them, being unloaded from a minibus outside a hospital, and then a sequence of over-crowded hospital corridors in a state of frenzy.

“That’s the hard edge of it, that you don’t see at seven o’clock,” he said.

Amidst this turmoil another, unnamed Wuhan source described how residents rallied one evening, breaking the silence with “spontaneous chanting”.

“A few people had opened their apartment windows and gave full voice to encouraging the city to persevere in facing its current plight,” the source said. 

“The phrase ‘Wuhan, jia you’, is what would normally be shouted by supporters of the city’s football team as encouragement during a game. 

“In this case there is no football game but the growing chorus of voices from apartment windows last night continued for five minutes and highlighted that there is a unity of purpose for the common cause that is facing the people.”

Countless stories of human tragedy are emerging as the death toll and the number of confirmed cases rises exponentially.

Outside Wuhan in surrounding Hubei province, Yan Cheng, a 16-year-old with cerebral palsy was found dead after his father, and sole carer, was quarantined for suspected coronavirus. 

The boy was found a week after his father had been taken away.

Two local Communist Party officials have been dismissed for letting this tragedy occur.

As the virus spreads, the Vatican has reported sending more than 600,000 face masks to China. 

“The masks are destined to the provinces of Hubei, Zhejiang and Fujian,” where the outbreak has hit particularly hard, the Vatican’s press office said.

“It is a joint initiative of the Office of Papal Charities and the Chinese Church in Italy.”

During his Sunday Angelus address on January 26, Pope Francis expressed condolences to the victims of the virus and his support for efforts to fight its spread.

“I wish to be close to and pray for the people who are sick because of the virus that has spread through China,” the Pope said. 

“May the Lord welcome the dead into his peace, comfort families and sustain the great commitment by the Chinese community that has already been put in place to combat the epidemic.”

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