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The Scene From Wuhan, A City On Lockdown


We begin this hour with the view from Wuhan. That's the epicenter of China's coronavirus outbreak. The earliest cases of the disease are tied to a meat market in the city, before it began spreading around the globe. And today the World Health Organization declared that the outbreak is an international public health emergency.


Here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first person-to-person transmission of the virus. Public health officials encouraged Americans to take basic precautions - wash your hands, cover your sneezes and coughs. But they note the odds of contracting the virus in the U.S. are extremely low.

KELLY: Not so in Wuhan - residents there are told to wear face masks whenever they leave their homes. They're not allowed to leave the city. Public transit is shut down.

I spoke earlier today to Pisso Nseke. He's a business consultant who has lived in Wuhan for five years. I asked, when did he last leave his house?

PISSO NSEKE: So the last time I left my home was about five days ago. There were no cars. There were no buses. We could only see one or two people. It's, like, literally a ghost town.

KELLY: Are restaurants open? Are stores open?

NSEKE: Restaurants are not open because all public meetings, parties or anything that can bring people are greatly discouraged. So the only thing that people can do is just to go to the supermarket and buy food and supplies.

KELLY: OK. So the supermarkets are open. Do they have food? Is there - are there things on the shelves?

NSEKE: So some supermarkets have food, but other supermarkets lack vegetables. Like, because of the coronavirus, some people are scared of eating anything like beef, you know? So most people now are trying to eat, like, vegetables, so it's kind of difficult to get vegetables.

KELLY: And where are you getting your news about what's happening?

NSEKE: I try to get my news from different sources - from the local media, also from the national media. And I also try to see what foreign medias are talking about.

KELLY: So you're comparing Chinese media and international.

NSEKE: Exactly. I can tell you, like, sometimes, some of the information are not the same. Like, in the beginning of the crisis, you know, the foreign media was presenting it as more serious. But after that, I think the Chinese president asked for more transparency and stronger measures. So I think now there's a little bit more transparency.

KELLY: So do you feel like you have enough information - like you're getting accurate facts about what's going on in your city?

NSEKE: Well, I'll be very honest. I really don't know what to think right now because sometimes, you have the feeling they're telling you that things are going to get under control. But when you look at the statistics - the number of people infected and the number of people dying - it just keeps on increasing, you know?

KELLY: Are you scared?

NSEKE: I'm not really scared. I'm just concerned because I don't have all of the information. I don't have all of the data, so it's very difficult for me to know exactly what to expect because we're just like sitting ducks, you know? We don't really know what's happening.

KELLY: I suppose you can't possibly know the answer to this. But how long can this go on? How long can you hold out without being able to leave your house?

NSEKE: Honestly speaking, this is the first time in my life - I'm a very active person, and this is the first time I have to stay this long. In the beginning, it was kind of fun because we could watch, like, movies...

KELLY: (Laughter).

NSEKE: ...You know? - like, watch some Netflix, you know? But now it's, like, terrifying because you don't know how long this is going to last. So it's more psychological.

KELLY: What are you eating at this point? What's in the fridge?

NSEKE: Some vegetables - I got some rice because rice is one of the cheapest things in China. I also made sure to buy a lot of water. I got some potatoes, and that's what I have.

KELLY: Yeah.

Do you have a family? Are you stuck in the house by yourself?

NSEKE: I'm stuck in the house by myself.

KELLY: Oh, I'm sorry.

NSEKE: I'm not married yet. It's all right.

KELLY: (Laughter) Not yet.

NSEKE: Yeah (laughter).

KELLY: And it's - I'm guessing it's hard to meet somebody under these situations.


NSEKE: Yeah, it's kind of hard. It's kind of hard. You know, it's - and people are advised not to couple up or meet each other because there are risks of contaminating somebody. So this is some kind of house arrest, self-quarantine. And it's not really easy for a lot of people.

KELLY: Mr. Nseke, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it, and we send you best wishes.

NSEKE: Thank you very much.

KELLY: That is business consultant Pisso Nseke speaking to us from Wuhan, China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.