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Have Miles Will Travel

Have Computer Will Travel: to Wuhan, China During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Have Computer Will Travel: to Wuhan, China During the Coronavirus Outbreak
Meg Butler
Virtual travel can take you anywhere. So, today we’re headed to Thursday, January 23 in Wuhan, China. This is the day that ground zero of the Coronavirus epidemic went on lockdown.
This video journey was brought to the world by a young, Chinese filmmaker who captured his “Life in Wuhan” during the first few days of quarantine after the outbreak. The series, originally posted on Weibo, went viral in China. Today, it’s available on YouTube and offers a unique glimpse into the early days of the quarantines that would go on to impact much of the world.
The series of shorts covers the first two weeks of the outbreak, as filmmaker “Michael” volunteers around the city and films other helpers as they pull together to support the first responders before stricter quarantine laws take the series in a darker, yet also familiar, direction. Here are some of the highlights.
Want to read more about life in Wuhan, China a month after the lockdown? Join the discussion in FlyerTalk’s China Forum.

Day 1: The People Who Can’t Go Home

Michael takes us past hospitals, malls, and into a grocery store. The shelves here aren’t quite empty. He doesn’t mention toilet paper. But, he does point out a bleaker scene: people who have nowhere to go–presumably, the lockdown happened and they were unable to arrange temporary housing now that they can’t return home–wander the streets with their luggage in hand.

Wuhan, China is a city with 14 million inhabitants. But, as Michael drives down the eerily empty streets, Wuhan is a ghost town. It’s a scene that is becoming increasingly familiar to cities around the world. One of the upsides of the epidemic is the feeling that even though social distancing can be a struggle, millions around the world are going through the experience together.

 

Episode 2: “We Can’t Run Away. We Are Not Going to Hide”

With public transportation shut down, Michael volunteers to shuttle medical staff to and from hospitals and talks with them about how the epidemic is unfolding behind hospital walls.

Micheal is one of many volunteers that help to feed pets left behind, deliver food to hospital staff or giving them haircuts. They’re self-organized and coordinate their efforts through WeChat and another (unnamed) micro, neighborhood app.

When asked why he risked his safety to do this volunteer work in episode five, said one volunteer: “We can’t run away. We are not going to hide. After all, we are from Wuhan. This is our city.”

 

Episode 7: A Sunny Day With Trouble Ahead

Wuhan is often overcast, but today is a sunny day and Michael films people social distancing outside–doing tai chi in the park or walking their dogs–on his way to visit a restaurant owner. The restaurant has no customers, but they make meals anyway–100 a day–for free and delivers them to the local hospital which does not provide meals for the staff.
While Michael is on the road, government officials frequently take his temperature at checkpoints around the city. And, word is going around that the government is prohibiting certain citizens from driving, seemingly at random, via text message.

Episode 10: The Date That Lasted Forever

On day 10 of the Wuhan lockdown, Micheal drops in on a unique situation: a young couple that wound up living together when one couldn’t leave Wuhan to return home. So far, it’s not awkward. They fill the time with video games (and stay fit with Ring Fit Adventure on Nintendo Switch) and seem to be handling it well so far.

They are bored but have enough work to keep the lights on, and food in the refrigerator. However, supplies to local grocery stores continue to thin out. There’s meat readily available says the boyfriend, but vegetables run out if you get to the store too late.

 

Episode 11: Delivered Too Late

Today, there’s a delivery of Lopvinair–a protease inhibitor approved by the CDC to treat some of the symptoms of COVID-19–donated from overseas by an anonymous “broker” who is “in the business that exchanges medicine for HIV patients” and arranged the donation of spare medication.

As Michael delivers the packages around town, he records the stories of the recipients: a wife whose husband has a confirmed case–she carries his CT scans with her, families separated to keep each other safe. One package, heartbreakingly, comes too late for a young girl who breaks down with grief in the middle of the street.

 

Episode 12: On Lockdown

No longer able to travel freely, Michael films on the grounds of his sprawling apartment complex community while on his way to pick up eggs that a neighbor on the neighborhood community app has left outside for him to take for free when he mentioned that he was out.

The front gates of the complex are guarded by community volunteers with the backing (and uniforms) of government officials. It’s their job to receive online deliveries and go grocery shopping for residents who don’t know their way around the internet and make sure no one leaves necessarily. Things reach a boiling point when an elderly man asks to go out and get flour and is denied, “the grocery stores won’t let you in any way.”

A gathering crowd talks about the internet rumors on the increase during the quarantine. One neighbor has heard that the virus was purposely released in China.

Another blames the government for reacting too late and continuing to extend the quarantine with no end in sight. “If a person is confined for a long period of time, says the man who’s image is blurred, he will suffer psychological issues for sure… maybe jail would be better.”

Michael ends the series in his apartment watching his sister get married, live in Australia, in a wedding he was supposed to attend before Wuhan went on lockdown. He shares a toast with her over video and, shortly afterward, the series ends.

 

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