From touchless food orders to closed communities, life in one northern Chinese city hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak has virtually come to a standstill. In Handan, a city of 3 million people some 800km north of the virus ground zero in Wuhan, the streets were eerily quiet this week, even though the Lunar New Year holiday officially ended on Sunday. Local government officials have been told to work from home, while factories have been ordered not to resume production until Monday, unless it is for badly-needed products, such as medical supplies. Most restaurants, shops, cafes and bars are closed or operating on reduced hours, as are large shopping malls. The virtual shutdown has left many residents unable to buy daily necessities, including some food items, after panic purchasing in the first days of the Lunar New Year period stripped many shops of their wares. A KFC outlet in the city was among the few restaurants open, although customers were not allowed to enter and had to place orders via smartphone and wait for meals outside in a so-called “touchless order and takeaway system”. Handan is not among China’s hardest-hit cities, with only 14 confirmed novel coronavirus cases as of Monday, but the shutdown shows just how far daily life is from returning to normal in the country. The virus, which emerged late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan , has claimed the lives of 490 people and infected nearly 25,000 in mainland China. As the virus has spread to every corner of the country, authorities have taken unprecedented measures to contain the outbreak, imposing a lockdown on more than a dozen cities in Hubei province home to tens of millions of people, curbing public transport and reducing shop hours. Analysts are increasingly predicting the 2019 coronavirus outbreak will do more damage to the economy than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic in 2002-2003, and many have begun lowering their growth predictions for China, which is already grappling with near-30 year economic slowdown. But despite the potential economic toll of the virus, local authorities – and increasingly local communities – are taking no chances. In Handan, almost every residential block is sealed off to outsiders and guarded by armies of volunteers with red armbands, a sight even more jarring during Lunar New Year, which is traditionally a time to visit families. At the gate of one community, an unregistered driver argued with security staff who were refusing her entry until police arrived to resolve the dispute. Elsewhere, a notice posted outside a high-rise residential building by a local anti-epidemic group said that the No 1 unit containing dozens of households would be quarantined indefinitely. “I’ll quarantine myself, it’s too scary. Now I worry the lifts are not safe,” a resident who only gave her name as Bao said. In Cixian, a county administered by the Handan government, authorities imposed additional restrictions on residents after its first confirmed infection, saying only one person per family could leave home for provisions each day, mirroring similar rules in cities like Wenzhen and Huanggang in Hubei. The strict travel restrictions and fragmentation of communities that have prevented normal life from returning to normal in Handan are common across China. While independent analysts are predicting deep disruption to Chinese economy in the short-term, Lian Weiliang, a deputy chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, was more hopeful. He said early this week the economic impact of the novel coronavirus’ impact would not be as bad as Sars. But there is little doubt the government controls will be having an impact on economic activity . President Xi Jinping on Monday said that China must keep an eye on the economy while containing the outbreak. Concerns about the economy and job prospects are on the minds of many in Handan, too. On WeChat, the popular Chinese social media platform, local residents have been sharing worries and debating about when they can return to work. For Lena Wei, who flew from the southeastern city of Xiamen to Handan on January 19 to see family and friends, her holiday has been ruined after banquets and gatherings were cancelled. “I haven’t met any of my friends yet,” Wei said. “I have not even removed the tags from my new clothes.” Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.