Medical staff wait at the entrance of a clinic for fever patients and patients from Wuhan in Fuyang in central China's Anhui Province. Picture: Chinatopix via AP
Medical staff wait at the entrance of a clinic for fever patients and patients from Wuhan in Fuyang in central China's Anhui Province. Picture: Chinatopix via AP

Student quarantined for one cough

After developing a cough, Meron Mei, a second year student at Wuhan University, went to the hospital and got checked. Doctors determined it was a common cold, not the new coronavirus, and he returned home.

Then, a week ago, five officers - wearing masks and wielding blue, gun-shaped thermometers - showed up at his house in Xishui County, a two-hour drive from Wuhan, Mr Mei told The Associated Press.

Mr Mei is now under constant surveillance by police, and a red warning has been posted to his front door: "Do not approach - patient with suspected pneumonia".

Doctors in gowns, goggles and masks check his temperature three times a day, and the government calls him constantly to monitor his condition - despite tests that he said show his body is free of coronavirus.

 

Community health workers check the temperature of a person who recently returned from Hubei Province, centre of a virus outbreak, in Hangzhou. Picture: Chinatopix via AP
Community health workers check the temperature of a person who recently returned from Hubei Province, centre of a virus outbreak, in Hangzhou. Picture: Chinatopix via AP

"I am in prison," said Mei. "I'm so angry. I feel physically and mentally exhausted."

More than 50 million people are currently in lockdown across China, where the largest quarantine in human history has been instituted.

"This epidemic is spreading quite quickly, which presents challenges and is putting pressure on our control and prevention work," said Chinese National Health Commission director Ma Xiaowei.

"The country has adopted more powerful measures, which should be able to control the epidemic at a lower cost and faster speed."

The death toll from coronavirus in China has risen to 362, exceeding the fatalities from the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003. The disease has so far spread to more than 20 countries, with more than 17,000 cases confirmed around the world.

In China, anyone who has recently been to Wuhan is being tracked, monitored, turned away from hotels and placed into isolation at their homes and in makeshift quarantine facilities.

A registration book for residents who have recently returned from other provinces is displayed at the entrance to a neighbourhood in Beijing. Picture: Dake Kang/AP
A registration book for residents who have recently returned from other provinces is displayed at the entrance to a neighbourhood in Beijing. Picture: Dake Kang/AP

Lists of hundreds of people from Wuhan, containing personal information including addresses, phone numbers, national ID numbers, dates of birth and occupations, are being circulated by uneasy residents.

Na, an education worker in Wuhan who had been visiting her hometown in China's Inner Mongolia region, said she was shocked when her friends and family forwarded her an Excel sheet that contained not just her name but her ID number, address and occupation.

"It listed a bunch of people in the whole city who had come back from Wuhan," she said.

While she wasn't confined to her home, she said she had received calls from the police, community officials and a newly established epidemic prevention centre.

A deserted street in Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province. Picture: Arek Rataj/AP
A deserted street in Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province. Picture: Arek Rataj/AP

Following Wuhan's lockdown on January 23, residents travelling in other parts of China soon found themselves no longer welcomed by local hotels and guesthouses, and have not been allowed to return to the region due to newly-imposed travel restrictions.

According to state media, in cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou, neighbourhood committees have been tasked with searching for Wuhan returnees door by door and reporting their information to authorities.

In rural areas, some villages have dispatched villagers to guard the entrance, blocking anyone returning from Wuhan from entering, and videos have emerged, supposedly showing the homes of Wuhan returnees that have been sealed off by banners and in some cases, barricaded by wooden planks and metal bars.

A girl wearing a face mask stands in the entrance to a shop in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. Picture: Arek Rataj/AP
A girl wearing a face mask stands in the entrance to a shop in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. Picture: Arek Rataj/AP

People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, acknowledged the targeting of people from Wuhan and the wider Hubei province in an opinion piece over the weekend.

"The majority of the five million people (who left Wuhan) did not 'flee' deliberately, nor does it mean that they all 'carry the virus'," the article read.

"No matter where they have gone, we should not hold prejudice against them, or treat them cold-heartedly … In the face of the outbreak, they're the victims and they wish more than anyone else to eliminate the outbreak, and they desire safety, assurance and care more than anyone else. At this moment, what they need is understanding, not misconception."

"Sick people are not criminals," vice president of Chinese mobile phone maker Xiaomi, Cui Baoqui wrote in a post on the social media platform Weibo.

"This data must be managed by a few people in the government. They need to tighten their controls."

- With AP

A stall to register residents who have recently returned from other provinces in a neighbourhood in Beijing. Picture: Dake Kang/AP
A stall to register residents who have recently returned from other provinces in a neighbourhood in Beijing. Picture: Dake Kang/AP

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