Covid-19 trauma still fresh for Wuhan residents a year after crisis

By Jesús Centeno

Wuhan, China, Jan 8 (efe-epa).- Spending months in isolation due to a pneumonia about which almost no information was available, being unable to see his daughter for half a year and seeing his workplace being forced to shut down: these are some of the traumatic episodes that 35-year-old software engineer Dominic Zhang lived through in Wuhan a year ago and is unable to forget.

When the first few cases of the mysterious disease came to light, Zhang couldn’t help linking the “rare pneumonia” to the first deadly coronavirus outbreak, that of SARS, that he had faced in Beijing in 2003.

However, the 2003 virus was more virulent and easier to detect.

“One year ago, nobody could think of a pandemic. I thought it would be another SARS, hundreds would be affected and in a couple of months it would be controlled,” he told EFE.

In early January last year, Wuhan’s 11 million residents were still living a normal life.

By the time they were told to stop going out, it was too late, and one by one Zhang’s family members caught the disease.

His father-in-law eventually fell into a coma and died, while Zhang – the last person in the household to show symptoms – was quarantined with nearly 800 people in an improvised intensive care unit established at an exhibition hall in Wuhan.

At the time, it was difficult to get admitted in a hospital and normal to pass through various centers while being infected.

Zhang said that there was a time when his father-in-law, mother-in-law and wife were in three different hospitals while he was quarantined in a hotel room after being kept in the hall.

The family manged to send his daughter to her other grandparents in a village and this saved her from Covid.

At the time, doctors didn’t know what was the correct treatment to fight the disease, and Zhang received different drugs in each place he went.

He narrated how he was clueless about recovery and wondered whether the doctor was doing the right thing or he would die right there.

Even when his symptoms – fever and increased heartbeat – subsided, the engineer continued to test positive.

“I didn’t have symptoms but was still positive for the last month. I could finally return home in April” said Zhang, who was released after having spent one month in the exhibition hall, another in a hospital and a third in quarantine.

In order to contain the outbreak, the city – which accounts for 3,869 of the 4,634 people killed by Covid-19 across China – was put under a strict lockdown, and this was accentuated by the atmosphere of fear, lack of information and supplies, and the unknown nature of the virus.

This was the first lengthy lockdown of the pandemic: it began on Jan. 23, 2020 and began to be gradually lifted from Apr. 8, with the measure causing surprise and suspicion across the world.

“The key moment was when the central government changed the local authorities (…) and everything started moving faster. Before that you had to wait a long time to go to the hospital if you had symptoms. No decisions were being made. Franky speaking, they were helpless,” Zhang said.

Apart from the lockdown, Wuhan managed to reverse the crisis thanks to strict prevention measures, arrival of personnel and supplies from other provinces, and rapid construction of hospitals.

Little by little, the curve of fresh infections was flattened and the images of the city returning to normalcy during the summer provoked incredulity, jealousy and admiration in the rest of the world.

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