Wuhan residents not worried about possibly SARS-related pneumonia outbreak

While the outbreak sparked a run on face masks at pharmacies in Hong Kong, few on the streets of central Wuhan were sporting masks this weekend.

AFP | January 12, 2020, 06:44 PM

Pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, China, has taken a 61-year-old man's life and infected 41 people since Jan. 3.

Preliminary investigations have found that a new coronavirus could be the cause and this virus might be related to a SARS-related virus.

Hong Kong's Department of Health said that genetic sequencing of the virus found in one of the Wuhan patients indicated it was 80 per cent similar to SARS found in bats.

But they said it was too soon to conclude that it was a SARS strain.

The outbreak began just weeks before China's busiest annual travel period, and national plane and rail authorities are closely watching developments as millions prepare to visit family at Chinese New Year.

No clear evidence of human-to-human transmission has yet been detected, according to the local health commission.

Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city centre -- where multiple pneumonia patients worked -- is still cordoned off after being shut down on Jan. 1.

Wuhan residents unconcerned by pneumonia outbreak

While the pneumonia outbreak has sparked international concern, the residents at Wuhan seem just as unconcerned about the disease, believed to be from the same family as SARS -- an infectious coronavirus that killed hundreds of people in mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Multiple restaurants sharing the same building were open and serving customers early Sunday morning.

While the outbreak sparked a run on face masks at pharmacies in Hong Kong, where scientists urged people to stay vigilant, few on the streets of central Wuhan were sporting masks this weekend.

Most of the guards stationed around the seafood market were not wearing protective gear, although one group of security staff who had entered the market area wore masks and hats and were instructed at a morning briefing to stay covered at all times.

Multiple people without safety equipment were seen exiting and entering the market, however, while some guards appeared more concerned about the spread of unflattering images than contagion.

One of them threatened to track down AFP reporters for filming a confrontation between the guards and an elderly man who wanted to enter the market.

The same guard said merchants had been allowed to enter the facility to check on their stalls, accompanied by security staff.

"Nothing we can do"

Outside the medical centre in Wuhan where the infected are being treated, patients discharged after being seen for other illnesses waited for buses and taxis, some without face masks.

Visitors were free to enter and exit the hospital compound, although a guard physically blocked AFP from filming a group of patients moving between buildings, saying it was a "sensitive" scene.

Two women surnamed Yan and Shu who had been discharged said on Jan. 12 that hospital authorities had pushed overnight for as many patients unrelated to the pneumonia outbreak to be sent home as possible.

"Most of the building is empty," Shu said, adding that she believed more pneumonia patients would soon be transferred there.

Another woman surnamed Yan, waiting for a bus near the hospital with her husband and three-year-old daughter, said she was concerned about the virus but felt there was little point in worrying.

"If the illness looks for us, there's nothing we can do," she said.

Her husband Cao said most of their neighbours in the Wuchang district across the river from Huanan market were "not worried", as they rarely crossed over to the other side of the city.

Top photo via Weibo/车都城管


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