At least 99 people from the epicenter of China’s deadly novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak are under quarantine at a hotel in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s (XUAR) Atush (in Chinese, Atushi) city, according to officials, where authorities are racing to control the spread of the contagion.
On Jan. 23, Chinese state media announced the first confirmed infections in the XUAR—two men who had previously traveled to Wuhan—and by Thursday at least 36 people have been infected, while more than 1,600 are under medical observation in the region after exhibiting symptoms associated with the virus.
Recent reports on social media, including one by a medical staffer in the XUAR, suggest that as many as 13,000 people from Wuhan may have entered the region ahead of an order by authorities to shut down all transportation in and out of the city of 11 million people last month, although these numbers could not be independently verified by RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The top court in the XUAR recently issued guidelines that included severe punishments for people committing crimes such as “spreading rumors” and “using violence against medical personnel,” while local officials recently told RFA that information about nCoV and how it has spread in the XUAR is considered a “state secret” and cannot be shared with the public.
But RFA was able to speak with several officials in Atush, in the XUAR’s Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture, who said on condition of anonymity that at least 99 residents of Wuhan had been quarantined at the city’s Yashin Hotel, with additional people from the virus’s epicenter possibly held under similar conditions in another guesthouse.
“Our cadres said [the Wuhan residents] are being quarantined in hotels such as the Yashin and the Mirivan, where they have rooms for people to stay,” an official with the municipal government said on Tuesday, without providing details of when the quarantine had gone into effect.
“The Yashin is located in the center of the city and is more than 10 stories tall.”
RFA spoke with a security guard at the Yashin Hotel who confirmed the quarantine, but said he was unsure of how many people were being held there.
“We have no empty rooms here—it’s full and we cannot be opened, because we’re not operating,” he said.
“It’s filled with quarantined people. I don’t know the numbers, but I can try to ask the doctors.”
An official at the Yashin called the hotel a “quarantine site,” adding that “all of them are from Hubei’s Wuhan city.”
“It’s full now and the patients were assigned to us by the command center,” he said.
A second official at the hotel told RFA, “we have 99 patients quarantined here.”
RFA was unable to reach staff at the Mirivan Hotel to respond to claims that residents of Wuhan had been quarantined there as well.
But a worker at Atush’s Kezhou Hotel told RFA that the building had been closed by authorities amid fears of the virus in the city.
“We aren’t receiving guests now because of the quarantine,” he said.
“We don’t have any quarantined people here, but we have closed down.”
Reports of the quarantine came after residents of Atush told RFA that on Jan. 31, authorities had declared a state of emergency, rolling out two-meter (6.5-foot) fencing to block local intersections and ordering the city’s approximately 200,000 inhabitants to stay within their homes for roughly three weeks in a move aimed at blocking the threat from nCoV.
The residents said they had not been notified of the plan ahead of time, and were therefore unable to gather food supplies or other necessities before the start of the lockdown, which they had been notified would be in effect “until Feb. 20 or so.”
One of the residents said there have been no confirmed cases of infection from the coronavirus in Atush, but authorities have announced at least four in the seat of Turpan (Tulufan) prefecture, two or three in Bayin’gholin Mongol (Bayinguoleng Menggu) Autonomous Prefecture’s Korla (Kuerle) city, four in Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture’s Ghulja (Yining) city, and two in the XUAR capital Urumqi.
Authorities have remained tight-lipped about the epidemic in the XUAR, where as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas are believed to have been detained in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017.
Reporting by RFA and other media outlets indicate that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities that experts warned recently could lead to an epidemic.
A lack of transparency on the part of officials has been blamed for allowing the coronavirus to gain a solid foothold in Wuhan, leading authorities to shut down the city in January.
Despite the clampdown, China has seen the number of confirmed cases nationwide balloon to 28,088, with 563 deaths and 265 cases worldwide, including the first death outside of China, which occurred in the Philippines over the weekend, and one in the territory of Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.