World

Wuhan residents call for help and cities locked down to fight virus

Residents call for support amid worries of food, masks shortages

BEIJING: Wuhan residents called for help and shared worries of food shortages, with some on the "verge of tears", after the virus-hit central Chinese city of 11 million people was put on effective lockdown yesterday.

Neighbouring Huanggang, a city of about seven million people, announced a similar lockdown.

Seventeen people have been killed and more than 600 infected.

Preliminary research suggested the virus was passed on to humans from snakes, but China's government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.

Wuhan shut down all urban transport networks and suspended outgoing flights from 10am. The Hankou rail station was nearly deserted, with gates blocked, state broadcasts showed. The government urged citizens not to leave the city, Reuters reported.

State media reported highway toll booths around Wuhan were closed down, which would have effectively cut off road exits. Guards were patrolling highways, one resident told Reuters.

As the city slipped into isolation, residents thronged into hospitals for checks and scrambled for supplies, clearing out supermarket shelves and queuing for petrol.

The search term "Wuhan is sealed off" had been read at least 510 million times on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform by yesterday morning, with some 214,000 discussion posts.

Some residents said they were on the "verge of tears" as they read news of the lockdown, adding that their families' lives were "threatened constantly and the target of online abuse".

"We consciously avoid going out, disinfect diligently and wear masks," wrote one user in a social media post.

RISING FOOD PRICES

"But there is a lack of food and disinfectants, and we need more resources. We hope everyone can understand that we are feeling as though it is the end of the world. We really need everyone's help".

Some called on the government to provide more resources to Wuhan, saying there were not enough masks and that food prices were rising.

Many Internet users from outside the city expressed sadness and concern for residents, urging them to stay safe.

Others expressed anger at the authorities, questioning why the city was not sealed off sooner. Some blamed people in Wuhan for eating wild animals, AFP reported.

It is believed that animals are the primary source of the outbreak, and a now-closed seafood market in Wuhan where they were illegally sold is believed to be the source of the outbreak.

One user asked: "Do people enjoy eating wild animals that much? Hasn't the lesson from Sars been enough?"

Several Wuhan residents told Reuters that people were rushing to stockpile supplies. Big supermarkets were teeming with people and many shelves for staples like meat, vegetables and instant noodles were bare, they said.

"Everyone is on a buying spree," said one Weibo user, showing a picture of a long queue at a checkout aisle.

People took to social media to complain about surging prices for vegetables and other groceries.

"No one will object to Wuhan being sealed, but you need to let Wuhan's residents be able to eat and live," said another user of the Weibo social media platform.

Another passenger, who identified himself only by the surname Yang, said he was not scared to be travelling to Wuhan.

"I'm a brave man," he said. "It's not like it will be only me."

The authorities in Huanggang ordered indoor entertainment venues including cinemas and Internet cafes to close.

Other cities were also taking steps to restrict movement and contact.

Nearby Ezhou shut its train stations. Travel restrictions have been imposed on the smaller cities of Chibi and Xiantao as well.

The capital Beijing cancelled major public events, including two well-known Chinese New Year temple fairs, the state-run Beijing News said. The Forbidden City - one of the country's most revered sites - will also be shut down tomorrow until further notice to "avoid cross-infection caused by the gathering of people", it said in an online statement.

WORLD