Chinese authorities in Wuhan Thursday said that they will conduct door-to-door home searches for people potentially infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and corral the sick into massive, makeshift quarantine camps around the city, according to a report in the New York Times.
These latest extreme outbreak control measures are on top of already draconian travel restrictions and shutdowns of public transit, which have effectively isolated Wuhan—a city of 11 million where the explosive outbreak began—as well as other highly populated cities in the Hubei province. Overall, the lockdown has made it difficult to get food and supplies to Hubeis 50 million residents, contributing to a humanitarian crisis that is now swelling from Wuhan in the wake of the virus.
The desperate situation in Wuhan is clear from the latest outbreak figures. Of the 31,530 reported cases of 2019-nCoV in over two dozen countries, 22,112 are confirmed in the Hubei province alone. And of the 638 deaths logged so far in the outbreak, 618 have occurred in the province.
Overall, the Times notes that crude estimates* of the outbreaks fatality rates are a striking four percent in Wuhan, and 2.8 percent for the whole of the Hubei province. For the rest of China and beyond, the fatality rate estimate is around 0.2 percent. (*These are crude estimates of the rates because they are calculated by fatalities over cases, not fatalities over the sum of recovered and fatal cases.)
Reports from Wuhan suggest that medical staff are running short of personal protective equipment, medicines, and supplies to test patients for the 2019-nCoV. According to the Times, many Wuhan residents who have respiratory symptoms have been forced to go from hospital to hospital, on foot, to try to get tested. Many are turned away, untested and untreated.
Moreover, experts fear that penning potentially infected people in large quarantine camps—set up in a sports stadium, an exhibition center, and a building complex—with minimal medical care could make the sick sicker and let the whole gamut of infectious diseases run rampant among the confined people.
Still, Chinese authorities seemed resolute to take whatever extreme actions they see as useful to get a grip on the outbreak. Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who visited Wuhan Thursday and announced the new control measures, said that the city and country face “wartime conditions.”
“There must be no deserters, or they will be nailed to the pillar of historical shame forever,” she added.
The harsh measures come along with the saddening news that a local doctor in Wuhan, Li Wenliang—who became a hero figure for being among the first to raise alarm about the new vial illness only to be reprimanded by authorities—died Friday, local time. He had been hospitalized with a 2019-nCoV infection at the time of his death. China said Friday that it has launched an investigation into “issues” related to his death. Li was 34. Most patients who have died of the infection tend to be older and/or have underlying health conditions.
China isnt the only country toying with quarantines and travel restrictions—which experts say are unlikely to be effective.