Chinese County Isolates All Households, Cuts Off Transportation in Attempt to Contain Deadly Virus Spread

January 30, 2020 Updated: March 8, 2020

A Chinese county near the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan has taken drastic measures to contain the infectious disease.

On Jan. 29, the county of Xiangyin in Hunan Province announced a “six-level isolation” order to “advance ‘small unit battles’” in fighting the disease and “block off the transmission channels of the … new coronavirus to a maximum level.”

Effective midday Jan. 29, the entire county cut off communication with surrounding cities and counties, access between villages, and interaction between households. County roads are blocked, and villagers are no longer allowed out of the county.

An exception was made for medical personnel and vehicles delivering critical supplies such as food and utility services.

The notice, issued by the county’s public health emergency department, stated that local officials will be held criminally liable for not following the guidelines.

Anyone who refuses to adhere to the isolation orders will be put under “centralized mandatory isolation,” the statement said. The orders are effective for 10 days, through Feb. 8, although they may be extended if necessary.

Upon declaration of a public health emergency, local governments activate public health emergency departments.

At least 31 provinces have done so. It remains unclear whether other regions enacted measures similar to Xiangyin County, although public gatherings and business, cultural, and tourism activities have come to a halt across the country due to fears of the virus spreading. Central authorities have also extended the Lunar New Year holiday to Feb. 2 and postponed school openings indefinitely.

mask children virus
Chinese children wear plastic bottles as makeshift homemade protection and protective masks while waiting to check in to a flight at Beijing Capital Airport on Jan. 30, 2020. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Xu Jiaofan, vice director of the Xiangyin public health emergency department, told a local broadcaster that the decision was made because separating everyone was the “most direct, effective, and practical measure” to protect people’s health.

He said that all except two highways in the county would be closed, and neighborhood committees as well as property management would patrol the area 24 hours a day. A number of fights have broken out between officers and civilians at checkpoints, Xu said.

Xu stressed that people can still do “close-range outdoor activities” and purchase living necessities, provided they do not have symptoms of the illness. Anyone going outdoors is required to wear a mask. Officers will take down the names and personal information of all who go outside, he said.

Xu also said the government will release fitness video clips for people to watch at home while in isolation.

Countries including Australia, European Union, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, India, New Zealand, South Korea, and Turkey have plans to repatriate their citizens from the virus epicenter of Wuhan, which is currently under quarantine. On Jan. 29, chartered planes flew back 195 U.S. nationals and 206 Japanese from Wuhan to California and Tokyo respectively.

Deadly Wuhan Coronavirus Spreads To Hong Kong
A woman purchases surgical masks at a store in a shopping mall on Jan. 29, 2020, in Hong Kong. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Around a dozen countries have either closed borders or imposed travel restrictions on Chinese nationals after the coronavirus infected people in at least 19 countries. Major tech companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Facebook have restricted employees from traveling to China, while Starbucks has temporarily closed more than 2,000 stores in the country due to the outbreak.

Face masks are in high demand in both mainland China and Hong Kong. 3M, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of the popular N95 masks, stated it has ramped up production to meet demand, while Japanese household goods producer Unicharm Corp. stated it has been working around the clock since Jan. 17.

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