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.
One vast stretch of muddy ground in Wuhan was suddenly busy with cranes and heavy machinery as the state scrambled to build a new 1,000-bed facility. Soon, a second would begin nearby.
"We've got to go fast so we can beat the virus," said one construction worker who had been working for nine hours, and was preparing to go off-shift near the construction site.
Volunteers ferry the sick to and from the hospital.
"We need to take the initiative and help out," he says as he waits outside a clinic to take a patient home.
Countries have started to plan evacuations of their citizens from Wuhan. More than a dozen would eventually follow through. To boost morale, the government set up a display on the banks of the Yangtze river; four Chinese characters are lit up in pink: "Let's go Wuhan."
On day 6, the AFP spoke to a French doctor who had decided to stay in Wuhan, a Dr. Philippe Klein.
"It's not an act of heroism," he said. "It's been well thought out, it's my job."
More signs of the government crackdown are beginning to appear: Guards take the temperature of customers at supermarkets and other stores hawking essential goods.
Then on day 8, the reporters saw their first dead body in the street. He's a man, in his sixties, who is lying on his back in front of a closed furniture store. Officials in hazard suits slowly approach the body, taking every conceivable precaution.
The team of forensic experts who investigated the body are immediately sprayed with disinfectant. "It's terrible," one said. "So many have died in recent days."
That was two weeks ago. Though there are fewer bodies in the streets, and sick suspects aren't being turned away by hospitals so often, the situation has gotten considerably worse.
Epoch Times reporter Jennifer Zeng, who has been assiduously grabbing videos posted to Chinese social media and sharing them on Twitter, warned on Wednesday that the food shortage in Wuhan is becoming a crisis as the lockdown continues, despite the fact that China is supposedly once again open for business.
This is one of the most details reports describing the opening days of the lockdown, and it seems to comport with everything else we've come to understand about the outbreak in Wuhan. These are the consequences of Chinese officials not recognizing the virus's potential because they waited to share information about the virus and its genetic sequence with the international community, as BBG reports.