Tears, Fear, and Panic Grip China as Coronavirus Rapidly Spreads

The man burst out with a shout at the last second as medical workers boarded a bus headed to Wuhan: “Wang Yuehua, I love you!”

He sobbed, gasping, as his wife joined an emergency response team headed to the deadly new coronavirus that has killed at least 100 patients and infected more than 4,500 people across China. Reported cases are rising every day — more than 60% in the last 24 hours alone.

A nurse patted the man on the shoulder as he lowered his head, heaving. Another woman came by and murmured to him as he cried, “I know, I know, I can’t control it.”

The nurse next to him began to weep as well, wiping her face as the bus pulled away, loaded with colleagues and loved ones venturing on a perilous journey into an epidemic. At least 15 medical workers have been infected and one has died after treating coronavirus patients in Wuhan.

The 52-member group from Henan departed by bus Sunday, according to a Henan University report, joining more than 6,000 medical workers who’ve been dispatched from every province except Tibet and Hubei (where Wuhan is located) to relieve doctors and nurses in Wuhan.

Shared grief, suspicion and multiplying tensions have seized this nation. Since the central government takeover of China’s virus response last week, state media has broadcast a steady stream of inspirational reports about heroic Chinese people uniting to fight the unseen enemy, confident in the party’s leadership. Over and over again, the government repeats: Trust us. Be calm. Wash your hands. Stay home.

But offscreen, China’s virus war is grim. Silent cities sit in a white winter smog that blots out the sky, their silent, empty streets contrasting with the crowded hospitals where doctors and nurses break down because they lack equipment or rooms for the patients squeezed outside their doors.

In rural areas, many villagers blockade and guard village entrances to prevent outsiders — especially Hubei people — from entering.

Online, desperate posts sprout up daily from people begging for help because sick family members are not being admitted into hospitals.

Fear lurks in the background of even healthy people’s minds, inflated by the proximity of death, fragility of loved ones, and most of all by the unknown: where the virus comes from, how it changes, how it spreads, whether one has it or not, and whether authorities are providing the full truth. It is a country of fretful eyes peering out over surgical masks.

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SOURCE: Los Angeles Times, Alice Su