It all came without warning. One month ago in the early hours, authorities in the biggest city in the central province of Hubei announced that Wuhan was going into lockdown in response to a coronavirus crisis that just a day earlier had been declared “under control”. It was an unprecedented moment in the history of China – and the world, and condemned the 9 million people left within the city’s limits to an unknown fate. Not even at the height of another coronavirus outbreak 17 years earlier had such sweeping controls on movement been imposed on so many people at one time. In the weeks since, people in the city have confronted life-altering experiences, whether in a supermarket quest to get basic necessities or in a futile effort to get medical treatment for a relative. The lockdown remains in place and there is still no sign of when Wuhan’s residents will finally be able to freely leave their homes. But even when it’s all over, the city will never be back to “normal”. Guan Wenhua’s first thought when he heard about the lockdown was to wonder if it all was just one big joke. The 46-year-old businessman and father-of-two froze when he read the news on his phone on January 23. “How can the authorities simply shut down such an important national transport hub that’s home to 11 million residents?” Guan said, before the panic set in. “Have we been abandoned and left here to die?” The announcement came out at 2am and, as soon as the shops opened that morning, people rushed to the shelves, fighting to get their hands on essential supplies, according to videos posted online. Others had left the city while they still could. The epidemic, which has had a higher death toll than the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003, was first detected in Wuhan, but local officials in the capital of Hubei province tried to sweep the situation under the carpet until it became too big to conceal. WHO coronavirus team at ground zero in Wuhan to work out next containment step Wuhan’s disease prevention and control centre released a statement on day one asking residents not to panic. And authorities have made an effort to update citizens regularly on the situation and state media have tried to frame the shutdown as a battle being waged by the people of Wuhan for the good of the country. But Guan and his family spent the first two weeks on edge, not reassured by the official explanations. “For the first and second week, my whole family was very nervous, because the government never explained why they made this decision all of a sudden. Was it suggesting that the epidemic was out of control? I freaked out when I thought that the outside world might have given up on us,” he said. Another big question for the family was whether Guan’s 18-year-old daughter would sit a fine arts university’s entrance exam that was supposed to be held in January. “She did a lot of preparation for last month and then the exam was cancelled. She didn’t know when or how the exam would be held,” he said. For Xia Chengfang, who has had many sleepless nights in the past month, the epidemic has inflicted an enormous personal loss – one that went uncounted in the official figures. The day that Wuhan shut down, her grandfather developed a fever and her mother drove the elderly man to Wuhan No 7 Hospital. “It was so packed with patients that they waited five hours to see a doctor, who could only give them some medicine and ask them to go back home,” Xia said. Xia’s grandfather’s condition soon worsened and the family called an ambulance again and again, but nobody came, because no hospital in the city’s overwhelmed medical system had a bed to take her sick relative. “My grandfather finally got treatment on January 28, but that was too late, and he died the next morning due to ‘viral infections’,” she said. She said that her grandfather was one of the many who died from an infection apparently caused by the coronavirus but his death never appeared in official figures, because her grandfather died before medical workers could do a test on him. “If I had known earlier that my grandfather would not survive this winter, I would have definitely agreed to visit him on the weekends when he asked. What a big mistake I made in the past to sleep in and hardly ever visit my relatives,” she said. That sense of regret and loss is compounded by anger at the decision makers in the city. “How could the Wuhan authorities suddenly shut down the whole city just one day after they were saying the outbreak was under control?” Xia said, referring to comments online by Wang Guangfa , a respiratory specialist from Peking University First Hospital in Beijing. A day before the shutdown Wang, regarded as one of the heroes in the fight against Sars in 2003, wrote that the coronavirus outbreak was still “preventable and controllable”, even though Wang himself was infected at that time. The epidemic has killed more than 2,300 people, most of them in Wuhan, and the flood of cases has left few lives untouched. One computer science professor said the death of a colleague made him realise that everyone was equal before death, while one mother said the crisis made her feel helpless just trying to balance the demands of work and home. But for volunteer Andy Wang, a quiet moment of connection brought his emotions to the surface. With all public transport stopped, he is one of a group of volunteers using their own vehicles to ferry medical personnel to work. On January 31, he drove a nurse who had not been home for over a week, back to her flat, making a detour on the way to see her parents for a few minutes. “The nurse did not go inside but talked to them from the hallway because she was scared of infecting them,” he said. “I hardly ever cried in the past. But this month, I’ve shed tears more than 10 times.” As days went by, the feeling of panic gradually eased in communities across Wuhan as residents discovered they could survive without going outside and continue to live, as internet users joked, a home prison-style life. Residents can place orders online and pick up the parcels the next day, outside a designated gate at each residential compound. Prices of vegetables, meats and eggs rose, but most people said it was something they could understand and accept. Others have come together online to share information. “It seems that stocks are low of some things in the city. Local mothers’ WeChat groups are sharing updates about where we can buy diapers and milk formula every day,” mother Shirley Wang said. For all the Wuhan residents, life is on, and before another official announcement that lifts the lockdown, their prison-home style life also continues. Andy Wang, the driver, said he looked forward to the day when the epidemic was over and Wuhan’s lockdown stopped. “I know a lot of people lost their beloved ones and things will never be the same, but I do hope their lives can go back to normal.” Read the first part of the series here . Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). 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