One of Wuhan’s most senior doctors has died after contracting the coronavirus as authorities began a sweeping campaign inside the city to seek out patients infected with the virus.
Liu Zhiming had taken part in the battle against the virus from the start and had made important contributions in fighting and controlling Covid-19, the Wuhan municipal health commission said. During that process, “unfortunately he became infected and passed away at 10:54 Tuesday morning at the age of 51 after all-out efforts to save him failed”, the commission said.
Confirmation also emerged of the death last Thursday of Xu Depu, the former director of the Ezhou city Chinese medicine hospital in Hubei province. A nurse at the hospital confirmed his death on Tuesday, according to reports in state media.
Chinese state media reported new house-to-house checks in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people at the centre of the outbreak, that aimed to seek out and “round up” all infected patients. State media said anyone suspected of having the virus would face mandatory testing and anyone who had close contact with virus patients would be put under quarantine.
According to Chutian Daily, a Wuhan newspaper, 10 quarantine centres similar to the makeshift Fangcang hospital will be set up across eight districts in the city, providing an additional 11,400 beds for people showing mild symptoms of infection. Buildings in factories, industrial estates and transport centres were being converted into makeshift centres for housing patients.
The reports said all communities and villages would be placed under around-the-clock “closed-off” management, in effect putting them under lockdowns. From Tuesday, anyone who buys cough medicine or treatments to bring down a fever in chemists or online will need to use their ID card, the state-funded site the Paper reported.
The citywide inspection campaign indicates an escalation of the situation in Wuhan, where former officials have been blamed for a cover-up that led to the rapid spread of the virus. Health officials have reported nearly 50,000 confirmed cases in Hubei alone.
The draconian measures come after two of the city’s top leaders were sacked last week. Wuhan’s new Communist party chief, Wang Zhonglin, issued the new decree, according to the Global Times, an English-language state newspaper.
Officials would carry out the inspection with the help of big data and artificial intelligence, it said, without providing further details.
An order on Monday from the Wuhan city legislature on “winning the coronavirus war” warned that people who refused mandatory measures such as reporting cases of fever and cough to their local residential committees or going into quarantine if they were sick would be subject to “coercive measures”.
The order also said those who delayed reporting cases or “fabricate and spread false information on the epidemic” would be punished.
Footage circulated on the website of the Changjiang Daily, a paper run by Wuhan’s Communist party, showing officers in protective clothing knocking on people’s doors and checking their temperatures.
“We’re racing with time. This is a heated war of annihilation, not a relaxed protracted war,” a narrator says. “It’s a painful process but the fight must be fought imminently. The temporary lockdown is for the sake of our reunion in the near future. Wuhan will be bustling again soon.”
Wuhan residents complained about the draconian lockdown on social media. “We’re not allowed to go out at all, we’ve lost our most basic human rights. The guards are like prison guards, abusing the little bit of power they have. We’re guaranteed personal freedoms under the constitution!” said a user of the the Chinese microblogging site Weibo.
Another social media user also said it felt like being “in prison” as she was barred from leaving her house, even to go out for a stroll in the neighbourhood.
The death of the whistleblowing doctor Li Wenliang, who alerted colleagues over a mysterious disease that turned out to be the coronavirus, this month unleashed an outpouring of anger and grief across the nation. Wuhan police detained and censured him last month for “spreading false rumours”.
As in the case of Li’s death, there was initial confusion in China about Liu’s condition. On Monday night, the Communist party propaganda department of the Hubei health commission wrote in a social media post that Liu had died. It then said in a subsequent post that Liu was alive.
Although the number of people contracting coronavirus outside Hubei province has dropped for 13 consecutive days, the situation inside Hubei continues to be serious, reported Global Times.
Restrictions were tightened further in Hubei on Sunday with vehicles banned from the roads – excluding those delivering essential services – and companies told to stay shut until further notice. The notice also included locking down all residential communities in urban and rural areas, and closing non-essential public places.
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang