A recovered patient (R) waves to medical staff of the temporary hospital in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 26, 2020. (Xinhua/Shen Bohan)
BEIJING, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Deng Anqing, a Beijing-based writer, is spending an unexpectedly prolonged holiday at his parents' home in Wuxue, a small city in Hubei Province, with only three surgical masks purposedly saved for an undated trip back to the capital.
Just over one month ago, face masks were by no means the most sought-after commodity in China. Few people realized a looming epidemic caused by a new, highly contagious and lethal coronavirus would soon cause severe scarcity of personal protective items ranging from masks to disinfectant.
"Almost no people wore masks at the railway station or on the train," Deng, 35, recalled his departure from Beijing on Jan. 19, when hundreds of millions of passengers hit the road for the Lunar New Year holiday, a year's most important time for family gathering.
Then, the festival turned into a massive battle of 1.4 billion people against the invisible enemy, which was previously unknown to mankind.
By Tuesday, 78,064 people on the Chinese mainland had been confirmed as being infected, among whom 2,715 had died.
Deng heard of the outbreak from his friends in Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei. Vigilantly, he asked his parents to wear masks soon after he arrived home. But his mother shrugged off: "Wear a mask in the countryside? You'll have people laugh at us!"
Most people were not aware that the danger was so imminent that an infected person could spread the virus simply through cough and sneeze. At that time, a great number of people had already traveled from Wuhan, the center of the epidemic, to other parts of Hubei and beyond, even outside China.
On Dec. 31, Wuhan municipal health commission announced the city discovered 27 pneumonia cases with unknown causes. That brief statement hardly served as a wake-up call for the public until on Jan. 20, when renowned respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan in a media interview confirmed human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus and infections among medical personnels.
In an unprecedented move, China locked down Wuhan on Jan. 23 to curb the spreading of the virus, suspending urban public transport and outbound channels at the airport and railway stations.
Confirmed infection cases surged drastically, hospitals were overwhelmed, doctors and nurses across the country rushed to Hubei, and a people's war against the epidemic was soon officially announced.
Doctors check a patient's CT image at a temporary hospital in Jiangxia District in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 25, 2020. (Xinhua/Shen Bohan)
BATTLEFIELD ONE: HOSPITALS STRUGGLING TO SAVE MORE
The air in Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan is a mixture of the odor of disinfectant and undercurrent of uneasiness.
Zhang Dingyu, the hospital head, usually slept no more than two hours after the first batch of seven infected patients were transferred to his hospital in late December.
"We try to outrun death to treat and save more patients," said Zhang, knowing his clock is ticking. Due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, his legs have recently been rendered powerless. He has to clutch at the handrail as he makes his way up and down stairs.
Doctors and nurses fought on the frontline round the clock when swarms of patients flocked in to seek help. Since the outbreak, more than 30,000 medical professionals, including those from the military, have joined the epidemic control battle in Wuhan. One in 10 intensive care medical staff in China is working in the city.
Medical supplies fell severely short, especially at the early stage of the outbreak, making many medics give up eating or drinking on their shifts in order to wear protective suits a little longer. Some use diapers to avoid going to the toilet, which means they have to put on new protective suits.
Some medics were infected and even sacrificed their lives while saving others'. More than 1,700 Chinese medical workers had been infected with the coronavirus, and among them, at least ten had died.
In a bid to significantly increase hospital beds, two makeshift hospitals were built from scratch at lightning speed and more temporary hospitals were converted from gyms and exhibition centers.
Top scientists have been working hard to develop vaccines and drugs and applied traditional Chinese medicine to the treatment of infected patients to help with recovery.
Illegal trade of wildlife has drawn extensive criticism as researchers believe the virus highly likely came from wild animals. China's top legislature on Monday decided to impose a full ban on illegal wildlife trade.
Employees of a supermarket and community workers carry goods ordered by residents in Baibuting Community in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 24, 2020. (Xinhua/Shen Bohan)
BATTLEFIELD TWO: COMMUNITIES, VILLAGES ON HIGH ALERT
On the very day when the human-to-human transmission was confirmed, Beijing reported its first two COVID-19 cases, triggering the cancelation of traditional New Year temple fairs and the suspension of all inter-provincial highway passenger bus services. Similar measures were taken nationwide.
Gone was the city hustle and bustle. Heeding urgent calls from experts and governments, people canceled trips and visits, and stayed at home to avoid cross-infection. Streets were empty. Restaurants, malls, cinemas, museums and tourist resorts were closed all around the country, with outbound group tours canceled and quarantine measures adopted.
Tibet Autonomous Region became the last plagued provincial-level region on the Chinese mainland by reporting its first confirmed case on Jan. 30. On the same day, the World Health Organization announced the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Nevertheless, Yamazaki Yumiko, who first heard about the virus outbreak when she was spending a holiday in Japan, returned to Changchun city in northeast China's Jilin Province, where she teaches Japanese.
Both her son in Japan and her husband in China asked her not to return, but she insisted. "Although I cannot come to the frontline like Chinese medics to treat the infected patients, at least I could be with my students," she said.
Besides teaching her students online, she signed up as a volunteer of the neighborhood where she lives with her husband, joining others to do disinfecting work and take temperature of residents entering the closed-off neighborhood.
Across the country, a large number of community workers and volunteers did the same as Yamazaki: making sure people coming in and out of the neighborhoods wear masks, fever patients are attended to promptly and people who had traveled to Hubei are placed in quarantine.
In vast rural areas, loudspeakers, slogans and around-the-clock checkpoints were used to keep every village on high alert, for sake of safety. Villagers were advised to offer New Year greetings via video chats instead of door-to-door visits.
Staff process masks at a plant in Quwo County, north China's Shanxi Province, Feb. 25, 2020. (Xinhua/Wu Di)
BATTLEFIELD THREE: FACTORIES AT FULL CAPACITY
The roaring sound of machinery surrounds workers as they are busy sewing masks and packing products at a workshop of SPRO Medical Products (Xiamen) Co., Ltd. in east China's Fujian Province.
"Due to shortage of staff (who were stranded at hometowns due to transportation cut-off), our workers toiled more than 11 hours a day over two shifts," said Wang Hui, who oversees the company's workshop, with a daily production capacity restored to 200,000 masks by early February.
In the wake of the epidemic outbreak, the virus had emptied the inventories of all brick-and-mortar drug stores and online retailers nearly overnight.
China produces about half of the world's masks with a daily output of 20 million, according to the National Development and Reform Commission. But that is still insufficient to meet the exploding demand.
Local Chinese authorities encouraged enterprises to produce more medical supplies such as protective gear, by providing preferential policies including fund subsidies, fast approval, financing and manpower support.
Some companies that have nothing to do with medical supplies have revamped their factories to churn out masks. A Foxconn plant began trial-producing masks on Feb. 5, while on the next day, the Liuzhou-based auto maker SGMW decided to revamp production lines to produce N95 respirators and other surgical masks.
Beijing had activated three mask factories that have been obsolete for years and is converting an industrial building into a new mask factory to make 250,000 masks a day. A garment factory in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region also built a production line to make protective suits.
The daily production capacity of masks nationwide may exceed 100 million as additional production lines will become operational in the near future, authorities said.
Teacher Chen Weiwen interacts with her students during a trial online class in Shanghai, east China, Feb. 25, 2020. (Xinhua/Liu Ying)
BATTLEFIELD FOUR: SMALL OFFICE HOME OFFICE
Although the coronavirus outbreak may have taken a temporary hit on the world's second-largest economy, China has ramped up measures including promoting telework to push for business resumption and shore up the economy.
Either required or encouraged, those who stayed at home during and after the prolonged Spring Festival holiday have played their part in containing the spread of the virus. Their living rooms and bedrooms have been turned into offices and classrooms.
Mobile tech firms such as Tencent, Alibaba's DingTalk and China Mobile have all raced to provide technical support, most of which free of charge.
The number of online meetings supported by Tencent Meeting on Feb. 10, when most enterprises started resuming operations, was 100 times that of its previous average daily use as many are working at home. The surge in data traffic also prompted DingTalk to add more than 100,000 additional cloud servers.
Millions of students resort to online learning at home as the spring semester started in late February. In southern China's metropolitan of Guangzhou, the curriculum of online school classes cover physical exercise, reading, anti-epidemic education, aesthetic education as well as math, science and English.
"Although these changes are an exploration in a special period, they also reflect the development trend of online production and life in the future," said Zhang Ying, associate dean of Guanghua School of Management, Peking University.
It seems to be the largest physical isolation in history but Chinese people were more connected than ever as homebodies made full use of social media to seek joy amid hardship.
Kuaishou, a popular short-video sharing platform, said in the latest report that its daily active users had exceeded 300 million in early 2020. People livestream whatever they do at home from cooking, cosplay to haircutting and doing fitness.
"I yearn for the day when I can take off my mask. I want to go to the cinema, order a hot-pot meal, meet my parents, hike with my kids and soak in the sunshine," a netizen posted on microblog Sina Weibo. ■