The Crisis in Wuhan ‘Forced Me to Become Political’

The leader of a volunteer group in Wuhan, China, distributed protective suits to the group’s members on February 29, 2020. The volunteers in the cordoned-off city have done everything from running quarantine workers to sending relief supplies to hospitals. (Xiao Yijiu / Xinhua / Getty Images)

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Chen Meili (not her real name) is a young university graduate in her early 20s, born and raised in Wuhan, China. She had lived and worked in another province for about a year when she returned to her hometown for New Year celebrations on January 19, just days before the city was closed on January 23 to curb the spread of the novel corona virus. Since then, she hasn’t gone outside. No one in her immediate family got sick.

With China beginning to report fewer new cases of domestic corona viruses and the epicenter of the pandemic moving to Europe and the United States, the Chinese government is slowly easing its quarantine measures. Yesterday, residents in Hubei Province outside of Wuhan, the capital, can travel again for the first time in more than two months; Wuhan residents are allowed to travel from April 8th. While Wuhan appears to have emerged from the darkest phase of this crisis – the authorities report a community transmission rate close to zero – many mistrust official numbers and continues to be concerned about potentially asymptomatic residents.

Chen spoke on Skype and social media The nation how the virus has stirred up their community and their country and the trauma it leaves behind. This interview was edited and compressed from four interviews.

W.When I returned home I had no idea that my city would soon be closed. I wanted to spend the Chinese New Year with my family. We had planned a big gathering. I remember reading some foreign news about the virus in early January, but we weren’t too worried. Finally, there was no coverage in the Chinese media, so we assumed it was fake news. Then the government quit the Blocking.

In those early weeks I was in constant fear. I woke up in the morning and immediately checked my phone for the latest updates: what developments were there, whether my loved ones were safe, how many were infected, what policies were introduced. The rules like that Ban on private carsseemed easy at first. But when they were put into practice, cracks appeared and things got messy. It became a pattern: a very broad and ambiguous policy would emerge, there would be problems and officials would adjust.

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