In an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, China’s vice premier mandated on Feb. 6 that the Wuhan city government screen each resident’s body temperature by visiting their homes one by one.
Wuhan, where the virus first broke out, has roughly 11 million residents. Experts are skeptical that this new rule would be effective in containing the disease, while Chinese netizens are worried that the new regulation may inadvertently cause the virus to spread even more quickly.
Vice Premier Sun Chunlan is in charge of women’s and children’s affairs, education, health, sports, and veterans affairs.
At a Feb. 6 meeting on the outbreak response, Sun requested that the Wuhan government “use the whole city’s resources and visit each family, to find the four types of people” by taking their body temperatures.
The four types were referring to: diagnosed coronavirus patients; suspected patients; patients who have a fever and have yet to be diagnosed for the virus; and those who have close contact with diagnosed and suspected patients.
“You cannot miss any family, or any single person,” Sun said, according to state-run media.
Sun used “wartime” to describe Wuhan’s current situation, adding that all four types of people must be sent to the city’s quarantine centers or hospitals.
She threatened Wuhan officials that they would be punished if they miss any resident.
But experts were concerned that the working staff who will visit each household could incidentally spread the fatal coronavirus, if they come into contact with an infected person and the virus lands on their protective suits.
Sean Lin, a U.S.-based expert in microbiology and former virology researcher for the U.S. Army, surmised that the authorities gave out this order in order to detect “super spreaders,” or patients who can transmit the virus easily to healthy individuals.
However, “her order worries me because the government cares more about politics than disease control, medical treatment, and humanitarian assistance,” he said.
Netizens seemed to agree. Yanan, a Wuhan neitizen posted on Weibo that he and his family members have not left their home since Jan. 23 and are healthy so far.
“Now you [the government] will arrange a person from the outside to enter our home and measure our temperature by using a thermometer from the outside [which may be contaminated with the virus],” Yanan said.
He added that because his household does not have disinfectant products, he may not have the proper tools to prevent the virus from spreading when the staff takes their temperatures.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that healthcare workers frequently disinfect their gloves when caring for patients suspected or confirmed with contagious diseases.
Other experts, such as U.S.-based China affairs commentator Ai Li, were skeptical that taking body temperatures can accurately identify coronavirus patients, particularly as Chinese medical experts have already confirmed that some people infected with the virus may not exhibit symptoms during the incubation period—a timespan of up to 14 days—but can still spread the virus to others.
She also questioned the authorities’ decision to send suspected patients to quarantine centers, as they could cross-infect each other.
“If you see the videos [that Chinese netizens filmed] of the quarantine centers and makeshift hospitals, you will know immediately that even healthy people will be sick in that environment,” Ai said on a Chinese-language commentary show on YouTube.
Wuhan netizens shared videos of the conditions at those facilities, saying that there is no medicine, no medical staff, very limited food and drinking water, as well as cold, unsanitary environs with unstable electricity.
The 2019 novel coronavirus first broke out in Wuhan in early December 2019, and has since spread all around China and dozens of countries. Chinese authorities reported almost 30,000 total infections, but experts and local residents believe the true number is far higher.