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The Scene In Wuhan, Where Transportation Is Restricted Due To Viral Outbreak


Now we go to Wuhan, China. It is the epicenter of a deadly strain of coronavirus.


The Chinese government says 25 people have died. Hundreds, potentially thousands, have been infected. Wuhan, along with several other Chinese cities, is now largely closed off from the outside world. No one can leave the city by plane or train or travel within it by bus, subway or ferry. Coach lines have been told to circumvent the city.

SHAPIRO: New York Times reporter Chris Buckley was able to catch a train from Beijing to Wuhan. It is a city of 11 million people, bigger than London, and he told me what it looks like today.

CHRIS BUCKLEY: Well, it feels like a small town that's been deserted. It is a very big city that spans the Yangtze River. Traveling around today, though, it was notably quiet in most parts of the city. When I arrived in the train station this afternoon, it was very empty. There are a few lost souls wandering around, trying to figure out if they could get out of Wuhan somehow. On the expressways and the roads, there's certainly still traffic, but it is notably down from what it would usually be. And many shops and restaurants and hotels are closed as well.

SHAPIRO: When you do see people, are they all wearing surgical masks? Can you find any of those masks in stores?

BUCKLEY: Most people are wearing masks. There's a minority - they tend to be older people - who are not wearing masks. But it seems that the warnings over the past few days and the blockade on the city has really been a jolt to people, so most people are wearing masks.

Masks are still available in stores, but the ones that are being sold in the stores now tend to be the very flimsy ones, the ones that are going to offer minimal protection to a coronavirus.

SHAPIRO: When you talk to locals, do they seem frightened and anxious? Or is everybody pretty calm?

BUCKLEY: I think anxious is the right word. It's not panic, but people feel anxiety and frustration about a number of things but, in particular, about the difficulties of figuring out if they or one of their family members may have come down with an infection of this new coronavirus.

Now, as you would know, it's winter in China. There are flus going around. People get colds. People get fevers. Figuring out which ones may be triggered by this new virus is a very difficult process, and that means that the hospitals that have some capacity to do that are being stretched to the limit in the numbers of people that are turning up with what may be symptoms caused by this virus.

SHAPIRO: So the hospitals are overcrowded. Do they have enough supplies?

BUCKLEY: Supplies appear to be a problem, in particular, the protective supplies that are needed to keep doctors and other medical staff safe. You know, that means that the hazmat suits, the masks, the gloves - that's the kind of equipment that hospitals go through very quickly. So keeping up supplies does seem to be a real strain on the system at the moment.

SHAPIRO: Do people trust the information that they're getting from the government and public health officials?

BUCKLEY: There's certainly a strong undercurrent of distrust, especially as it seems, looking back now, that the Wuhan city government somehow underplayed the severity of the outbreak as it began to emerge. And talking to a number of residents today, many of them seem to feel that city officials should have acted sooner and more candidly to provide information.

SHAPIRO: This happens at a really unfortunate time in the calendar, when millions of people travel from the cities home over the lunar new year. And I know they work hard all year with the expectation of being reunited with their families at this moment. How are people responding to the discovery that they may not be able to make that journey?

BUCKLEY: Well, I came across a few migrant workers at one of the train stations who had tried to get out on a train overnight but missed out. They were stricken at the idea of not being able to rejoin their families, especially for people from the countryside. It's a really important time of year. Many of them work away from their families, including their children, for all of the year. So the idea of not being able to go home at this time to see their family can be very painful.

SHAPIRO: Chris Buckley of The New York Times speaking with us from Wuhan, China.

Thank you for joining us today.

BUCKLEY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.