By Swaibah Bilal
Studying at Wuhan University, a Pakistani shares the events that unfolded at the epicentre of the pandemic at the start of the year
It was a chilly January night. Dinnertime in Wuhan had just acquired a new hint of umami. News of a certain virus wafted through re gan mian (hot dry noodles) stands and hot pot restaurants, resonating through the clinking of stoneware and china, resonating deeper than anyone could hear. Alleged to have originated in a wet market in the Hankou region of Wuhan, the virus had just been confirmed to have the potential of human transmission. Quite like the flu, however. Such miniscule particles of genetic information rarely disrupt restaurant routines. And so, the clinking persisted.
Then, one afternoon, as I scrolled through my newsfeed, a meme about the “Wuhan virus” caught my eye. It took me a while to process that not only had an ordinary local virus made its way to the international media, it also got its own name. The meme had casually likened it to a plague. Wuhan, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to this new suffix attached to its name. People went about their lives as usual and not everyone felt the need to wear protective masks.
In tandem with the Chinese Lunar Year preparations, tiny red lanterns had started popping up on trees and arrays of red decorations and gifts sprang up in supermarkets. People flocked to the markets to buy gifts for their loved ones back home as part of the much-awaited annual Chunyun — the planet’s largest migration and family reunification. The mass migration had already started two weeks prior to the new lunar year; little shops began to shut down and our residential compound hushed down as some people left for other cities, while others based in Wuhan returned.
And then, as if a switch was flicked off, on January 23, 2020, a sudden lockdown was imposed by the Chinese government, a day before the Chinese Lunar Year Eve.
Suddenly, a hustling city in the midst of celebration became a ghost town, cut off from the world. Airports, bus stands, train and subway stations shut down and emptied while hospitals brimmed with hundreds of cases. News outlets began plastering headlines about Wuhan with doctors donned in intimidating white hazmat suits. Before I could fully comprehend why so many doctors were suddenly dressing up like astronauts, the numbers of infected patients surged. Hundreds became thousands, and numerous people in the neighbourhood tested positive. Prior to the lockdown, five million residents had left Wuhan, resulting in the rapid spread of the virus outside the city as well. Mortuaries, funeral homes, medical workers and residents, all stood on the brink of collapse as a wave of anger and confusion enveloped the city.
Owing to the state of chaos, the Wuhan mayor offered to resign and admitted that public information should have been released more quickly. Henceforth, the administration did everything it could to avert more damage. From ensuring millions of people stayed confined to their homes to building a 1,000-bed hospital from scratch in 10 days, to making sure the city received adequate food supply to converting public venues (such as exhibition centres, gymnasiums and stadiums) into makeshift hospitals, the administration went the extra mile. Thousands of medical personnel and tons of medical supplies were airlifted to Wuhan to lighten the severe strain on resources. Cars were banned. “Sharp-tongued” drones fitted with loudspeakers, thermal sensors and facial recognition were employed to scold people over unsafe behavior and instruct them to disinfect large areas.
Suggested reading by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
The self isolation for 70 years and older may last up to 4 months
To see the daily new cases and deaths in the top eleven countries go to
“We project that roughly 56 percent of our population – 25.5 million people – will be infected with the virus over an eight week period,” Governor Newsom of California wrote on 3/19/2020.
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