We didn’t know it then, but January 23 of last year was the day that changed the world. That Thursday, at ten in the morning, the city of Wuhan, of eleven million inhabitants, was closed to contain the epidemic of pneumonia caused by a new coronavirus that, at that time, had 575 infected and 17 deaths. In the following days, the confinement was extended to the 50 million people living in the rest of the Hubei province, which is located in central China and occupies almost half that of Spain.
In a panic, the world’s most populous nation came to a near complete standstill, its 1.4 billion people shutting themselves up at home following official orders during the Lunar New Year holidays. Meanwhile, Wuhan hospitals were overflowing with suffocating patients for whom there were no beds or respirators. With hardly any masks or special protective suits, the health workers were infected trying to help them, but in most cases they could only send them back to their homes, where they continued to infect their relatives.
With more disbelief than fear, the entire planet was witnessing an outbreak that, unfortunately, has since been repeated in all countries, unleashing the worst pandemic in a century and the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression in 1929. Remember what you were experiencing. making that date, January 23, 2020, because it was the day that, without us knowing it yet, the world changed.
Despite the time that has passed, the coronavirus and its origin is still a mystery to scientists
- Another reality.
“We remain concerned about the epidemic in Hebei, but the situation in Wuhan is very safe now”
Since then, Covid-19 has infected nearly 100 million people and claimed more than two million lives. One of them was that of Mrs. Liu’s mother-in-law, a 47-year-old housewife who, through tears, recounts the tragedy. “My mother-in-law caught a sudden cold and her fever started to rise on the night of the Lunar New Year (January 24). At that time we did not think it was the coronavirus, but a cold. But he did not recover. Although the fever was controlled, the lung infection worsened. At that time, Wuhan was in chaos. There were a lot of people in the hospitals, but they couldn’t be admitted because a positive nucleic acid test was needed to get a bed. While we waited for the results at home, her condition worsened and she could no longer breathe. We bought him a ventilation machine, but it did not improve. When the results of the nucleic acid arrived, she had died the day before without being able to be admitted, “she recalls, her voice cracking with emotion, behind a mask.
To contain the epidemic, the Government sent 40,000 doctors from all over the country and built two emergency hospitals with more than 3,000 beds in ten days, in addition to installing another 14 in convention centers and sports pavilions. Of the 88,000 infected and 4,635 deaths recognized by China, in Wuhan there were 50,000 infected and almost 3,900 fatalities. These official data can be doubted because, during the first weeks, many patients perished without being tested for the coronavirus. In addition, subsequent studies of antibodies suggest that there were between three and ten times more infected. But what is undeniable is the normality that, thanks to the strict confinement of Wuhan and the draconian measures, has been breathed since before the summer in all China, only broken by the outbreaks of this winter in Beijing and the north of the country.
Officially at least, such outbreaks are small compared to the West’s numbers, with its daily new cases numbering just over a hundred, not tens of thousands. But they have raised the alarm about the approach of the Lunar New Year, which begins on February 12 and is a high risk because it is the longest holiday in China. To prevent the spread of the virus, the authorities have tightened controls and tightened restrictions, forcing PCR tests to travel as seen in a tent outside the Wuhan Central Hospital.
“We remain concerned about the epidemic in Hebei province and the northeast. But the situation in Wuhan is fine, it is very safe right now, ”says Xiong Nannan, 34, as she walks her daughter, four, through the shops on popular Han Street.
Despite the unrest, no one in Wuhan fears an outbreak like last year. “It will not happen again because people continue to wear masks and we already know how to tackle the coronavirus with quarantines and medical treatments,” confides Ms Wang, a teacher who still does not know if she will be able to return to her native province, Shandong, due to the restrictions of movements for public officials.
Sacrifices aside, behind are the tragic days of the coronavirus. “At the beginning of the confinement, the city had a terrifying atmosphere. Due to the uncertainty, I bought a lot of provisions and even a fishing pole, thinking that if food was lacking, I could always go to the Yangtze or the lakes here, ”laughs Zhang Jin, a talkative 37-year-old street portraitist.
As the lockdown caught her family out of Wuhan, she went through the entire lockdown alone. Although she feared she was infected every time she learned that a friend had caught it, the shutdown finally ended in the middle of the six months she had calculated and she reopened her portrait booth on Han Street in late March. “At that time hardly anyone came because the confinement lasted until April 8. All businesses suffered losses in March, April and May. Fortunately, the landlord forgave us our rent and now the situation is better », she congratulates herself with satisfaction.
Less pleased is Mr. Youcai, who sells suitcases and bags on Jianghan Street, the other busiest shopping street in Wuhan. Despite the hustle and bustle, his store is empty and he complains that “business has fallen more than half because of the epidemic, as people do not spend for fear of the future.” Sitting bored on a red plastic stool, he resigns himself with a shrug: “Cash is king.”
Meanwhile, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) who have come to Wuhan to investigate the origin of the coronavirus have a week of quarantine left. Once they are finished, they will inspect the closed Huanan market, where it is suspected that covid-19 originated or spread because wild animals were sold in poor hygienic conditions.
The controversial laboratory
But, in principle, they are not scheduled to visit the P4 laboratory of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where the United States suspects that the pathogen comes from. Although most scientists believe that Sars-CoV-2 is natural, it has turned into a bitter political dispute that has destroyed the image of China due to its habitual opacity and the economic impact of the pandemic. The ‘capicomunist’ regime in Beijing not only silenced doctors who warned of the disease, such as the late Dr. Li Wenliang, but also arrested bloggers who reported the coronavirus, condemning one of them, Zhang Zhan, to four years of jail.
With these precedents, few believe that WHO specialists are going to discover anything. Shrouded in the mist of the Yangtze, the mystery of the coronavirus follows a year after that fateful January 23, the day that changed the world.