Wuhan Warns Public to Stay Home as Financial Impact Starts to Bite

wuhan-street.jpg People wearing face masks walk along Hanjie shopping street in Wuhan, the central Chinese city of of 11 million people where the coronavirus first emerged last year, April 3, 2020.

Authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus epidemic emerged, have warned that the public aren't paying enough heed to disease control and prevention codes.

The municipal health commission said in a statement on its website that the public is now "slacking off" in its attitude to the disease, and called for strict controls on residents' movements to continue.

The notice sparked concerns in the city that the lockdown may not now be lifted as planned on April 8.

The notice warned that large numbers of people are beginning to arrive in the city from elsewhere in China, with all forms of traffic on the rise ahead of the lifting of restrictions.

It called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party's neighborhood committees, which have direct control over the lives of people in residential compounds and housing projects, to continue with a closed-door policy for all residential areas, preventing all but essential comings and goings.

The notice was also carried by state-run media, and the message reiterated on other official government websites.

Comments on the social media platform Sina Weibo expressed concern that the lifting of the lockdown, which has lasted more than two months, may not now go ahead.

"Will the lockdown still be lifted in five days' time now?" one comment said, while another said. "I haven't left my residential compound for 80 days now; I have job interviews but I can't get to them."

"The government should subsidize the people of Wuhan ... because we still have to pay rent," said another comment.

Masks and distancing remain

A resident of Wuhan surnamed Zhang said she has been confined to her home for around 50 days now.

"There aren't many people on the streets," Zhang said. "They are mostly staying home, as much as possible, in the absence of urgent business."

"When we go out, we wear masks and try to keep a distance ... they are also measuring body temperature and give us feedback about that," she said.

Zhang said she worries about her lack of income if the lockdown isn't lifted soon.

"Some people in the private sector won't have anything to live on, no source of income, if they don't work," she said.

Authorities in Hubei lifted travel restrictions on March 25, calling on people to observe the disease prevention guidelines, but allowing them to travel around freely.

A resident of Hubei's Yichang city surnamed Li said there were already large numbers of people on the streets on Friday, as the population returned to work.

"The green code indicates that I've never had coronavirus, so I can go anywhere, including shopping malls and supermarkets," Li said.

"There aren't quite as many people out as before [the epidemic], but there are still quite a lot walking around, and a lot of vehicles too," he said.

"Some sectors haven't resumed, such as movie theaters and big restaurants, where  you have to get takeout; you can't eat it in the restaurant."

April 8 lockdown lift still on

An official who answered the phone at the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission on Friday said the current guidelines still state that the lockdown in the city will end on April 8.

"They have also issued this announcement, which means that residential compounds will remain closed; people won't be able to come and go freely," the official said.

"People who have a green code can still come and go, if they have to go to work."

An Wuhan resident surnamed Song, who runs a store near the epicenter of the epidemic, the Nanhua Seafood Market, said many business owners are anxious to open up again.

But he said many will likely go under.

"It's hard for small and medium-sized enterprises to survive right now," he said. "Factories have their plant costs, wages, no orders, and rising prices of raw materials."

"There is no way to borrow money, and loan probably wouldn't save them anyway," Song said.

Zhang Gong, a retired economics professor at Sichuan University, said the economic impact of the pandemic will be huge.

"If the epidemic continues to spread globally, the consequences will be very serious -- similar to the impact of a world war," Zhang said.

"Now it's not just the butterfly effect, it's the domino effect," Zhang said. "For example, aviation is hit hard, real estate is hit hard, and shipping is hit hard."

"How will the financial industry escape that impact? This is far more serious than the 2008 financial crisis," he said, adding that, in China, the most affected are migrant workers and people with mortgages.

The impact looks set to reverberate around China, not just in the worst-hit areas of Hubei and Wuhan.

Social media users have been posting photos of stores on Nanjing's popular Xinjiekou shopping district which have started displaying "For Sale" notices in their window.

Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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