More Chinese cities are rushing to roll out new containment measures as the number of those taken ill by the highly contagious coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan in the central province of Hubei, keeps surging.
Cadres in charge of urban centers in both coastal and far-flung regions are now being told to enforce rigorous disease prevention procedures, discipline people who refuse to comply and treat the infected, now that the pneumonic plague has swept across provincial borders.
Other than locking down Wuhan as well as commuter towns in its conurbation to contain the spillover, officials in regions such as Zhejiang and Guangdong have been vigilant, as migrant workers from Hubei lured by better pay will return to throng job markets in these rich provinces after the Lunar New Year break and further spread the deadly pathogen. Cities in the two coastal regions have thus gazetted additional policies since this week, including an outright ban on weddings and other gatherings, corraling people with respiratory symptoms into observation centers, and sealing off residential quarters to keep out non-locals.
Some of the sweeping rules are seen as too rigid or even draconian, but failing to implement them is not tolerated, a public health official in Ninghai, a county in Zhejiang province, told Asia Times. “We are nearing the day of reckoning in the battle [to stop the epidemic] and the provincial Communist Party committee has ordered that new measures must be put in place and enforced to the fullest and those found negligent in discharging their duties will face demotion or be sacked,” said the official, who did not wish to be named.
The municipal government of Ningbo, a major city in Zhejiang that has jurisdiction over the county, has started documenting the health conditions of all visitors to the city and issuing temporary permits and health certificates to residents who must leave their homes to buy food and daily necessities since all residential quarters there have been closed or fenced off. Just one member of each household is permitted to go out to buy food every other day, according to a memo seen by Asia Times.
Among other measures, security staff at Ningbo’s metro stations have been asked to refuse entry to anyone not wearing a surgical mask even if the passenger passes temperature checks; central air-conditioning systems at hotels, shopping malls and food markets must be switched off to prevent them from becoming conduits for the airborne virus; and food and parcel deliverymen must wear protective gear and report their body temperatures on an hourly basis.
Ningbo has also banned property owners from leasing homes to anyone from Wuhan and the rest of Hubei. A landlord may be legally liable if their tenant is infected or found to be knowingly spreading the disease in the community. Those who choose to leave the city will be put under compulsory medical observation for 14 days upon their return, irrespective of their health conditions.
After masks were snapped up by nervous residents by the end of January, the municipal government scrambled to launch a WeChat-based registration system for locals to fill in their home addresses for a “mask lottery” and winners can get free masks delivered to their doorstep. But only about 100,000 masks will be up for grabs in each district each day, according to the Ningbo Daily.
The entire province of Zhejiang is now grappling with the outbreak as it reports the most infection cases, 895 as of Wednesday noon, outside the epicenter of Hubei.
Besides Ningbo, Wenzhou is also facing heightened risks as the city has 364 infected patients. The numerous businesspeople from Wenzhou running trading companies and markets in Wuhan who returned home for the Lunar New Year are believed to be the reason for the spike in infections. Wenzhou’s government is contemplating replicating Wuhan’s desperate measures, including shutting train stations and the airport, as a last resort. However, no deaths have been reported in Zhejiang.
Meanwhile, the top party brass in Zhongnanhai are agonizing over the already faltering economy in many provinces that may about to experience technical recessions, as well as the nation’s poorly orchestrated response to the contagion, which has dented the Communist Party’s image.
Also, under a veneer of unity, many refuse to resign themselves to a repeat of the rampant yet familiar maladministration by cadres in Wuhan and elsewhere, such as underreporting, covering up the situation on the ground and embezzling funds including donations, all of which were seen across the country during the SARS outbreak 17 years ago.
Wuhan’s party chief and mayor have both offered their apologies for belated moves to curb the spread when signs of a pandemic began to emerge in December.
There have also been calls to pardon some malpractices as officials juggle resources and manpower. Disciplinary actions, it has been argued, may undermine morale.