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With Thousands Sick, China Tries To Contain Coronavirus


Hong Kong has suspended train and ferry connections with mainland China, and it's also cutting the number of flights by about half. This is, of course, because of the coronavirus that has killed at least 106 people. More than 4,000 people in China are sick. Meanwhile, more than a dozen cities in the Chinese province of Hubei are officially under lockdown, and some are even sealing themselves off.

Here's NPR's Emily Feng from near the official quarantine zone.


EMILY FENG, BYLINE: A woman in a hazmat suit holding a gun-like thermometer walks over to my car and directs it against my forehead.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: She tells one of us to get checked again.

Whose temperature did she say was high?



FENG: Mine?

Turns out, I'm fine. I was just overheated. But the temperature screening is now routine on all interprovincial highways.

I was headed to Jiujiang, a city of 4.7 million. It's not under official lockdown, but it's now screening temperatures and blocking outside cars and buses from entering. Bigger cities, like Beijing, have done the same.

For some, that's not enough.

CHEN: (Through interpreter) A lot of these people have family in Jiujiang, and they come as they please.

FENG: That's 49-year-old Mr. Chen (ph). The people in the story didn't give their full name because those seen as spreading rumors about or criticizing the handling of the outbreak have faced state intimidation.

CHEN: (Through interpreter) It's very normal for people to cross the river. Look how narrow it is.

FENG: Mr. Chen is nervous because Jiujiang is just south of Wuhan, the city where the deadly new coronavirus began and where the bulk of the infected are. The two cities are separated by only the Yangtze River. If the quarantine of Wuhan continues, he thinks infected Wuhan residents will try to cross to Jiujiang.

CHEN: (Through interpreter) You cannot block these people from coming. All they have to do is paddle a boat in the night.

FENG: Other residents of Jiujiang say they don't mind the likely porousness of the quarantine; they mind the delay in the response. I find 78-year-old retiree Mr. Yan (ph).

YAN: (Through interpreter) Those who went through the SARS epidemic in 2003, like me, knew this would happen again.

FENG: This time, Mr. Yan thinks authorities should have taken drastic steps earlier.

YAN: (Through interpreter) They did not pay enough attention. And by the time they did, it was too late to contain the virus.

FENG: Chinese officials, trying hard to contain the virus, are now extending an unofficial lockdown to China's vast rural areas.

On the outskirts of Jiujiang, I find myself barred from entering a cluster of 18 villages home to several thousand people. One of the villagers has erected a barricade of bamboo sticks decorated with red trash bags.

There's a sign that says anyone from out of town, any cars from out of town can't enter the village.

Residents at the checkpoint say at least hundreds of migrant workers who work in Wuhan returned home to this village for the Lunar New Year last week. Here's a village guard.

UNIDENTIFIED VILLAGE GUARD: (Through interpreter) But that was before any government notice had come out telling them not to. So we have them under 24-hour supervision now. They can't leave.

FENG: Residents also said this week, the village party secretary mandates they wear face masks all the time. It's a solution that saves face. Officials can say they have the situation under control without announcing a formal quarantine.


FENG: Back in the city, I watch a lone fisherman standing on the banks of the Yangtze River net a plump carp fish. He thinks for a few seconds then lets the fish go. I ask him why.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Through interpreter) This fish has the coronavirus. It swam from the other side.

FENG: Fish can't get coronavirus as far as we know. But the fisherman is not taking any chances. It's a sign of just how anxious people in China are.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Jiujiang, China.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAPA'S "EMPTY SPACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.