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What it’s like in Wuhan on “re-opening”, and Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory Denies any connection to SARS-COV-2 outbreak: Bloomberg Businessweek


Wuhan by Eric Manzi courtesy of

Bloomberg Businessweek reported a story about the re-opening of Wuhan on April 22, but of even more interest was this statement from the virus lab at the center of conspiracy theories about the outbreak of COVID-19 there:

Yuan Zhiming, director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, hit back at those promoting theories that the virus had escaped from the facility and caused the outbreak in the central Chinese city. “There is absolutely no way that the virus originated from our institute,” Yuan said in an interview Saturday with the state-run China Global Television Network.

Yuan rejected theories that the yet-to-be identified “Patient Zero” for Covid-19 had contact with the institute, saying none of its employees, retirees or student researchers were known to be infected. He said U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, and Washington Post journalists were among those “deliberately leading people” to mistrust the facility and its “P4” top-level-security pathogen lab.

You could accuse Mr Yuan of lying, but that’s a pretty comprehensive denial– “none” of its workers “were known to be infected”…

The post I was going to write– about the precautions being taken in Hubei, capital of Wuhan– was a little overshadowed by that story.

What are they doing in Wuhan now that they’ve received permission from the Chinese government to come out of lockdown?  First, everyone has a cellphone, and they have their status updated regularly: red for infected or likely infected, yellow for contacts, and green for no known contact.  Second, when going to work, entering the mall, or going into a public building, everyone has their temperature taken, and anything over 37.3° Celsius (99.1° Fahrenheit) is investigated.  Merely visiting a building or apartment where someone else is later found to have been infected will change your status from green to yellow.  Apartment compounds can prevent anyone from leaving if an infected person is found within.

A Bloomberg reporter visited the Lenovo factory, where tablet computers are made, and discovered everything has changed.  The lunchroom, for instance, is partitioned into individual eating spots with tall plastic barriers.  Everyone who has returned to work has already been tested with the antigen nasal swab and an antibody blood draw.  Robots are deployed wherever possible to transport supplies.  Elevators are closed– everyone has to use the stairs.

The outbreak in Hubei was said to have peaked in mid-February, and according to the government, there are almost no new infections in the area.  The surveillance state has gained even more power since the pandemic struck.  Every movement, from taking the subway to going to the grocery store, is monitored.  Despite the official claim that there is no more virus, people are not going to department stores, malls, or restaurants, and the subway is quiet.  Cars are more popular than ever, because they provide individual transportation free of direct interactions with other people.

The government’s effort to control the outbreak in Wuhan was enormous: over 40,000 doctors were imported from other areas of China to help out and to replace others who had fallen ill (or died) from COVID-19.  People suspected of being infected were quarantined in hotels and temporary, specially-constructed buildings until they were cleared.  Large factories were repurposed to make ventilators and personal protective equipment on government command.

No-one was allowed to enter or leave Wuhan for three months; the first trains with departees left on April 8.  Some people had been there on vacation and were stranded there the entire time.

Restrictions on people’s movement like that would be impossible to implement in a society like the United States.  Voluntary compliance with isolation recommendations is the best we could do.  The other things are do-able: temperature checks, physical distancing, cellphone apps with aggressive contact tracing, virus tests for everyone coming out of isolation.  The only thing we can’t do is have mandatory quarantines for people even suspected of having contact with those infected.  Quarantines, under US law, are limited to those with active, contagious lethal diseases– like smallpox or Ebola.

I think that enough people would voluntarily isolate themselves to have nearly the same effect as they had in China– especially if the US government were honest with its people and told them everything that is known about the virus, as well as all of our uncertainties and unanswered questions.  Is it too much to ask for government people to tell us the truth?  Probably, when our president refuses even to release his income tax returns.

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