Over the weekend, there were numerous media reports published in hopes of easing fears that the coronavirus spread was uncontained, and informing the general public just how seriously China takes its quarantine of no less than 17 cities and roughly 60 million people. Take this report from AFP, according to which Police at a roadblock on the outskirts of Wuhan turned away cars trying to leave the virus-stricken epicenter on Saturday, as other anxious residents trapped inside spent the Lunar New Year stocking up on masks and medical supplies.
"Authorities have prevented anyone from leaving Wuhan, the city of 11 million people at the heart of the viral outbreak which has so far infected nearly 1,300 people and killed 41 others" AFP writes adding that its reporters saw "a steady trickle of cars approaching the roadblocks around 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of the city centre on Saturday morning, only for police in fluorescent jackets wearing masks to tell them to turn around."
The barricade, at one of the tolls for highways exiting the city, was blocked with red and yellow plastic barriers and cones.
"Nobody can leave," a policeman told AFP.
Yet, but... there is just one problem: the much needed quarantine and lockdown were far too late, because as Wuhan's mayor Zhou Xianwang revealed on Sunday during a press conference, about 5 million residents had already left Wuhan before the lockdown because of the deadly coronavirus epidemic and the Spring Festival holiday. As the SCMP reports, many of Wuhan's residents had already left the city for the holiday, while others rushed out after the lockdown was announced on Wednesday night.
As a result, only 9 million people were remaining in the city after the lockdown, with roughly a third of it, including countless cases of coronavirus, having already spread across China.
Due to the Chinese Lunar New Year and the #WuhanCoronavirus, more than 5 million people left Wuhan and 9 million people remain in the city which is under lockdown: Wuhan mayor pic.twitter.com/hi2NwsHmou— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) January 26, 2020
Meanwhile, in Chinese health officials warned the virus’ ability to spread was getting stronger, and in the worst possible news for China, Ma Xiaowei, the minister in charge of China’s National Health Commission (NHC), told a press conference that battling the outbreak had become especially complicated, after it was discovered that the new virus could be transmitted even during incubation period, which did not happen with Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
In other words, as many as tens if not hundreds of thousands of Coronavirus carriers quietly fled, and may have infected as many as 3-4 other people each, depending on the R0 of the virus.
“From observations, the virus is capable of transmission even during incubation period,” Ma said, adding that the incubation period lasted from one to 14 days. “Some patients have normal temperatures and there are many milder cases. There are hidden carriers,” he said.
As for the piece de resistance, Ma said also that the virus had adapted to humans and appeared to have become more transmissible: "There are signs showing the virus is becoming more transmissible. These walking ‘contagious agents’ [hidden carriers] make controlling the outbreak a lot more difficult."
Even China's authorities sounds like they are giving up: Li Bin, deputy minister of the NHC said the authorities that the severe measures they had taken to control the spread of the virus – such as issuing travel bans and locking down cities – would at least delay the peak and “buy time to combat the next stage of the outbreak”, according to SCMP.
Yes, China is already bracing for "the next stage of the outbreak."
To help tackle the epidemic, which has closed off 17 cities, Ma said that 2,360 military and civilian doctors and nurses had been sent to Wuhan, the city in which the outbreak was first detected at the end of last month. As the pressure has mounted on the city’s hospitals, the medical system has moved ever closer to collapse.
Many people who developed feverish symptoms were turned away by hospitals earlier in the week because there were not enough beds, local residents said earlier. Medical practitioners are also running seriously short of protective kits and are being forced to recycle goggles and masks. Ma said 2,400 hospital beds had been added in Wuhan, and the government was planning to add 5,000 more over the next three days.
Wang Jiangping, China’s vice-minister of industry and information technology, said China had the capacity to produce a maximum of 30,000 protective outfits per day, but that was less than a third of what was needed in Hubei.
Meanwhile, the hunt for the real source of the pandemic continues. China imposed a nationwide ban on wildlife trade on Sunday, as the outbreak was originally suspecteded to have originated at a seafood market in Wuhan, which also sold wild animals. However, a research paper published by medical journal The Lancet on Saturday said the first confirmed case of the viral infection was a person who had not been to that market.
Which begs the question we asked on Saturday: Did China Steal Coronavirus From Canada And Weaponize It?