Group chats counting the number of those infected and dead reflect the grim reality of life in the current coronavirus outbreak, which started in Wuhan, Hubei Province, and has spread to every province in China, as well as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and at least 24 other countries around the world.
Much of the province has remained sealed off since the last week of January, as China tries to contain the spread of the virus by enforcing travel limitations and implementing quarantines that have affected an estimated 60 million people.
As of Saturday, the total number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus in China has risen to 722, with at least 34,546 confirmed cases. The majority of those infected are in Hubei province.
“Here are today’s numbers,” Ms Hou, 32, who asked that only her family name be mentioned, wrote last week about the count of infected patients in Shiyan, in northwest Hubei where she lives.
Most of the members of the group chat used to study together in Wuhan, and now work outside the city, returning to their hometowns in Hubei for holidays like the Lunar New Year.
More stringent protection
In other cities, including Huanggang in Hubei, Wenzhou in Zhejiang, and Zhumadian in neighbouring Henan Province, communities have put in place restrictions on how often members of each household are allowed to leave to buy groceries and supplies.
“In fact, this protection system may be more stringent in our small cities,” Hou said. “More about health and safety than human rights.”
Mr Zhang* who works as a lawyer in Wuhan, and asked his real name not be used, said he is concerned about the conditions around where his parents live in Hong’an County, Huanggang. Huanggang is one of the cities adjacent to Wuhan that has been hit hardest by the virus.
“The power of prevention and control is not as good as Wuhan, the medical treatment is not as good as Wuhan, and the economy is far worse,” Zhang said.
While Zhang said the quarantine has been inconvenient, he is more worried about how it will affect people in rural areas if they cannot use transportation to access medical care.
“We can’t go out. It’s not that big of a deal,” he said. “It’s the farmers who are most affected.”
Volunteering inside Wuhan
Adequate space and supplies were a problem in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei during the first two weeks of lockdown.
The hospital is a lower-level facility responsible for triaging patients and sending those with more serious symptoms to the main hospitals treating the virus.
China has been working around the clock to build new infectious disease hospitals to treat patients, with the 1,000-bed Huoshenshan hospital built in Wuhan in less than two weeks having started taking patients on Tuesday. Another 1,600-bed facility started taking patients on Thursday.
Shut out by the quarantine
Liu said the number of infections in the district where his parents work is lower than in others, and his parents are not overly stressed. But sorting patients by symptoms remains a big task.
“At present, the entire hospital is working on one thing only, dealing with the coronavirus,” he said.
On the way back from making a delivery after the quarantine began, Liu said he picked up three nurses on the way to the hospital who had packed bags with them because they were aware they would not be able to return to their homes due to road closures.
“It’s true that there are big problems for medical staff to go to work,” he said. On Friday, Liu planned to pick up a delivery of donated vegetables for the hospital’s dining hall.