The public security bureau in the rural town of Dazhu in China’s northeast Sichuan province is bustling ahead of the Lunar New Year with families from larger cities on the east coast getting passports, travel passes and other documents updated while they are back in their hometown.
Despite the outbreak of the coronavirus that started in the central city of Wuhan in December, only a few people visiting the bureau could be seen wearing masks and only one or two of the dozens of the bureau officers were wearing theirs or had them hanging around their necks.
“We’re concerned, but there’s not much we can do right now,” said Ms Wang, an officer who preferred her full name not be used. “We’ve had locals who live in Wuhan coming through the office, but there’s really no way for us to tell if there’s a problem.”
Other officers said they were worried about catching the virus but were told not to wear masks unless they were sick themselves so as not to cause panic among visitors.
Dr Maia Majumder, a faculty member of Harvard Medical School, who wrote her dissertation on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), told Al Jazeera that advising against unnecessary mask use was a sensible response for the time being.