COVID-19 likely of animal origin, not made in Wuhan lab, says WHO


It was not clear, Chaib added, how the virus had jumped the species barrier to humans but there had “certainly” been an intermediate animal host.

“It most likely has its ecological reservoir in bats but how the virus came from bats to humans is still to be seen and discovered.”

She did not respond to a request to elaborate on whether it was possible the virus may have inadvertently escaped from a lab.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed rumours both that it synthesised the virus or allowed it to escape.

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Chaib, asked about the impact of Trump’s decision last week to suspend funding to the UN agency over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, said: “We are still assessing the situation about the announcement by President Trump … and we will assess the situation and we will work with our partners to fill any gaps.”

“It is very important to continue what we are doing not only for COVID but for many, many, many, many other health programs,” she added, referring to action against polio, HIV and malaria among other diseases.

She said that the WHO was 81 per cent funded for the next two years as of the end of March, referring to its $US4.8 billion ($7.6 billion) biennial budget.

The United States is the Geneva-based agency’s biggest donor.

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Oscar-shortlisted documentary 76 Days captures the Wuhan view as COVID took hold


The film is, he says, “apolitical”. There’s no voiceover narration, no interviews, no attempt to point the finger of blame for cover-ups or systemic failures in the way the epidemic was handled in those early days. Instead, the camera is a seemingly dispassionate observer of what happened in four hospitals during the lockdown of the city of 11 million people from January 23 to April 8 last year.

“I’ve done films in the past that got me into bigger trouble,” says Wu. “My past film, People’s Republic of Desire, was about live-streaming internet celebrities but I couldn’t get it approved by the censors because they disliked the lifestyle and values they represent.”

Hao Wu, left, and Weixi Chen, two of the film’s three directors. 

Yet reading the Chinese Communist Party’s collective mind is no straightforward matter, he concedes. “I have no idea how they’re going to respond to the really authentic portrayal of the early chaos and panic in 76 Days, or the way it ends with a sense of collective grief. I don’t know where the line is, and some people cross that line and get detained or arrested. But I think, for now, what we did with this film is fine.”

Initially, the three directors didn’t know each other. The two in China were operating separately until mutual contacts introduced them to Wu, and to each other, and a collaboration was born.

More than 320 hours of footage has been rendered into a 90-minute film. But it wasn’t until Wu’s first cut last July that the shape of the film began to emerge.

At first, speaking to the whistleblower doctors and political dissenters in the community had seemed essential. “At the very beginning, the whole narrative was about freedom of speech versus pandemic control,” says Wu. But then the epidemic became a pandemic, and America and Italy and the UK all fumbled their responses, too, and Wu and his colleagues had to rethink what their film would be about.

At any rate, there were many other filmmakers pursuing the bigger picture, both in China and abroad. Their view from inside the hospital wards was unique – and inherently risky.

“For them to go inside a contamination zone, not knowing how dangerous the virus was in those early days, was nerve-wracking,” Wu says of his co-directors. Later it would be the mental anguish of watching people die that became most gruelling, and the sheer exhaustion of filming for so long.

Throughout the shoot, they had to wear full PPE. Even so, one of them contracted a fever within a week of arriving.

“He was just married. He said, ‘I don’t want to die yet’,” says Wu. He isolated in his hotel room until it passed and when he was finally able to get tested it came back negative. “But we don’t know if that was true because the early tests weren’t so accurate.”

Anyone expecting an excoriating takedown of the Party for its handling of the outbreak will perhaps be disappointed by 76 Days; what it offers instead is a story in which co-operation, dedication, care and family are the abiding attributes. Characters emerge – some difficult, some heroic, some amusing – and there’s hope as well as tragedy in the paths the filmmakers follow.

“If you disregard some of the politics, it’s the same human story everywhere,” says Wu. “So we decided to just focus on the Wuhan story – the universal Wuhan story.”

76 Days screens at 6.30pm on Sunday as part of the Australian International Documentary Conference. The AIDC is at ACMI in Melbourne and online from February 28 to March 3. Details: aidc.com.au

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Wuhan Lab Theory ‘Extremely Unlikely’ Covid-19 Source, WHO Concludes—Correcting A Trump White House Claim


Topline

The World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Covid-19 has not been able to uncover the source of the virus or meaningfully change our understanding of the pandemic, the group said Tuesday, though it did rule out the idea commonly touted by former President Trump that the virus escaped from a Wuhan laboratory. 

Key Facts

In a joint press conference led by members of WHO and Chinese delegations, experts said their two weeks in the field had uncovered new information but had not dramatically changed the picture of the pandemic. 

Peter Ben Embarek, who chaired the WHO team, said the theory that the virus escaped from a Wuhan lab is “extremely unlikely” and does not merit further study, pointing to a lack of work on similar viruses “anywhere in the world” and a strong set of lab procedures making it “very unlikely that anything could escape from that place.”

Embarek said the most likely hypothesis remains the virus entering humans through an intermediary species—evidence suggests this could be bats or pangolins—but said the group was unable to identify a natural animal reservoir for the virus and further research would be needed.  

Embarek said further work was also needed to evaluate two other theories, such as whether the virus could have entered into humans from an animal reservoir directly or if frozen products were involved “in the introduction of the virus over a distance”. 

According to the Guardian, the Chinese delegation, which spoke first, heavily emphasized the latter theory, in fitting with ongoing efforts by officials to relocate the virus’ origins overseas.  

What We Don’t Know

After months of tense buildup and diplomatic back and forth to greenlight the WHO investigation, the origins of Covid-19 remain a mystery. It is unclear whether further investigations will receive approval from the authorities, and despite its continued claims of cooperation for the mission, China repeatedly refused to authorize a visit and even blocked the team’s arrival as they were leaving their home countries. It now says its side of the investigation is over, adding that this is just the “first part” of the WHO’s “global origin tracing work.”   

Key Background

Amid manifold failures and mounting criticism, China became a target for Trump and Republicans looking to cast blame for the Covid-19 crisis in the United States. Beyond the virus being first detected there, the former President and his officials repeatedly pushed, without evidence, the idea that the virus also leaked from a lab in Wuhan. Trump once said he had a “high degree of confidence” in the Wuhan lab theory, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was “enormous evidence” the claim was true. 

Further Reading

Wuhan laboratory leak Covid origin theory ‘unlikely’, says WHO team (Guardian)

A Timeline Of The COVID-19 Wuhan Lab Origin Theory (Forbes)

China Finally Green Lights WHO Investigation Into Coronavirus Origins As Daily Covid-19 Cases Spike To Five-Month High (Forbes)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

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Wuhan investigator foreshadows fresh clues on coronavirus origins


Worldwide, COVID-19 has caused more than 105.7 million infections and 2.3 million deaths.

The WHO was asked in May to help “identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts”.

Lab Theory

The lack of a clear pathway from bats to humans has stoked speculation – refuted by Daszak and many other scientists – that the virus might have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a maximum bio-containment laboratory studying bat-borne coronaviruses.

Scientists visited the lab and asked Shi Zhengli, who has collected and analysed these viruses for more than a decade, about the research and the earliest known coronavirus cases.

“We really have to cover the whole gamut of key lines of investigation,” Daszak said. “To be fair to our hosts here in China, they’ve been doing the same for the last few months. They’ve been working behind the scenes, digging up the information, looking at it and getting it ready.”

The work has been “collaborative,” with Chinese counterparts helping mission investigators dig deeper for clues, he said.

Peter Daszak of the World Health Organization leaves in a car past a row of security personnel at the Hubei Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Wuhan.Credit:AP

“We sat down with them every single day and went through information, new data, and then said we want to go to the key places,” the British scientist said. “They asked for a list. We suggested where we should go and the people we should meet. We went to every place on that list and they were really forthcoming with that.”

Daszak is one of 10 independent experts assisting the WHO mission. The agency also has five staff members participating, and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health have two each.

Mission delegates worked in three groups that focused on the potential involvement of animals, the epidemiology or spread of the disease, and the findings from environmental sampling. Genetic sequencing data are helping investigators identify threads linking the information across patients and wildlife, Daszak said.

“My feeling is we will be able to say something of some value at the end of this trip — quite a lot of value, but I don’t want to get into what that’s going to be or which way it points,” he said, adding that the group’s findings are confidential until they are released publicly.

Daszak, who was focused on the animal side, said his trip to the Huanan fresh produce market in central Wuhan was especially useful.

The so-called wet market sold mostly seafood, as well as meat that included freshly prepared wildlife. It was a focus early in the outbreak, when cases occurred among workers and shoppers, suggesting it might have been where the virus jumped from animals to humans.

‘Important Clues’

Subsequent research found earlier cases among people not linked to the market, undermining that theory. Investigators looked further and found “important clues” about the market’s role, Daszak said, declining to elaborate.

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“Right now, we’re trying to tease everything together,” he said. “We’ve looked at these three strands separately. Now we’re going to bring it together and see what everything tells us.”

While the food market was shuttered and cleaned almost immediately after cases were recognised, “it’s still pretty intact,” Daszak said. “People left in a hurry and they left equipment, they left utensils, they left evidence of what was going on, and that’s what we looked at.”

Scientists in China who took environmental samples inside the market identified sites where traces of SARS-CoV-2 were detected, he said. Investigators also benefited from greater understanding of COVID-19.

“We know now what we didn’t know then – that for every sick case, there were others that were asymptomatic or difficult to distinguish from a cold or cough,” Daszak said. “And so it’s not unexpected that there would have been other cases other than ones that got into hospital. But how many others, when did this start? That’s the sort of thing we’re still working on.”

Viruses are passed along “convoluted rivers of emergence” and tracing that journey is complicated and will take “a really long time,” Daszak said. “What I have seen already tells me that there are some real clues about what happened, and I hope that we’ll be able to make a solid explanation of that by the end of this trip.”

Bloomberg

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WHO team in Wuhan hold “good discussions” with Chinese counterparts



The convoy carrying the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic arrives at the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in Wuhan, China February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter REFILE-QUALITY REPEAT

February 1, 2021

By Reuters Staff

WUHAN, China (Reuters) – A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday visited the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China’s central region of Hubei, where the outbreak emerged in late 2019.

The group of independent experts spent about 4-1/2 hours on its longest site visit since completing two weeks of quarantine on Thursday, and did not speak to waiting journalists.

The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, has said its members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and have no contact with community members, because of health curbs.

The group has so far also visited hospitals where early cases were detected, markets, and an exhibition on the battle with the outbreak in the provincial capital of Wuhan.

No full itinerary for the group’s field work has been announced, and journalists covering the tightly controlled visit have been kept at a distance from team members.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow with the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, said two weeks in the field was not much time for the experts.

“I don’t think they have the time to get any conclusive results. It is more like communication and information exchange,” Huang told Reuters by phone from Washington.

“It depends how diligent they are in digging new information but also about how cooperative and accommodating the Chinese side will be.”

Beijing has sought to cast doubt on the notion that the coronavirus originated in China, pointing to imported frozen food as a conduit.

That hypothesis figured again on Sunday in the Global Times tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily.

On Sunday, the experts visited the Huanan seafood market linked to initial infections, and the Baishazhou wholesale food market, where a loudspeaker repeatedly announced that the sale of imported cold chain products was banned at the market.



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WHO team to start Wuhan COVID-19 probe under global glare


WUHAN: A team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) left quarantine in Wuhan on Thursday (Jan 28) to begin a heavily scrutinised probe into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, after Washington urged a “robust and clear” investigation.

The group started a two-week quarantine on arrival on Jan 14 in the central Chinese city where the first known cluster of coronavirus cases emerged in late 2019.

Wearing masks, they peered at the ranks of waiting media from the window of a bus which whisked them from the quarantine to another hotel on Thursday – although it was not immediately clear when and where their investigation will start.

“So proud to graduate from our 14 days … no-one went stir crazy & we’ve been v productive,” tweeted team member Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a global NGO focused on infectious disease prevention.

READ: White House demands ‘robust’ international probe into COVID-19 origins


Members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic leave The Jade Hotel on a bus after completing their quarantine in Wuhan, China’s central Hubei province on Jan 28, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Hector Retamal)

The virus is believed to have come from bats and to have initially spread from a wet market in Wuhan where wild animals were sold as food.

The WHO insists the visit will be tightly tethered to the science of how the virus – which has killed more than 2 million people – jumped from animals to humans.

But in a sign of the political baggage attached to their mission, US President Joe Biden’s new administration weighed in before the experts had even finished quarantine.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, new White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it was “imperative we get to the bottom” of how the virus appeared and spread worldwide.

Psaki voiced concern over “misinformation” from “some sources in China” and urged a “robust and clear” probe.

Beijing snapped back on Thursday, warning the United States to “respect facts and science, respect the hard work” of the WHO experts.

They must be allowed to work “free from political interference”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

READ: Relative of COVID-19 victim asks to meet WHO experts in Wuhan

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted Thursday that he held a “frank discussion” with Chinese health minister Ma Xiaowei, and requested that the expert team “get the support, access & data needed, and the chance to engage fully with their Chinese counterparts”.

WHO team in Wuhan departs quarantine for COVID-19 origins study

Workers wearing protective gear are seen in the compounds of The Jade Boutique Hotel, where members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic were quarantined in Wuhan, Jan 28, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Hector Retamal)

But in a mission dogged by delays and obfuscation from their Chinese hosts, it was not clear what the expert team will be allowed to see in Wuhan – or what useful evidence remains a year after the outbreak in a country which has vigorously controlled the narrative of how the pandemic began.

The early days of the outbreak remain among the most sensitive topics in China today, with the Communist leadership seeking to stamp out any discussion that shows its governance in a poor light.

Beijing has also sought to seed doubt into the origin story, floating the unsubstantiated theory that the virus emerged elsewhere.

Another theory, amplified by former US president Donald Trump, is that it leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan where researchers were studying coronaviruses.

Relatives of Wuhan’s coronavirus dead have called for a meeting with the team from the UN health agency, saying they have been facing new levels of official obstruction since the WHO team arrived.

According to official Chinese figures the virus killed nearly 3,900 in Wuhan, accounting for the vast majority of the 4,636 dead China has reported.

China is taking no risks in bringing a resurgence of the virus to heel, conducting anal swabs, localised lockdowns and cancelling flights as it makes travel before the Lunar New Year difficult.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its developments

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Wuhan doctor: China stopped me sounding COVID alarm



A Wuhan doctor has claimed that he and hospital colleagues were stopped from warning others about the looming COVID-19 disaster after they suspected the virus was highly transmissible back in early January, 2020.

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Deja vu in Wuhan as restrictions return one year after first lockdown


Blue, a hue associated with lockdown – blue face masks, blue emergency tents, blue metal sheets that sealed streets – is back in the city’s colour palette.

“For us Wuhan residents, we’ve already been through this,” said Wang Hui, 37, a chauffeur. He’s been tested for COVID-19 so many times – always negative – he’s lost count. “This is just the way it is.” Social distancing may be a nuisance, but it beats the alternative – complete lockdown. Saturday marked exactly a year since Wuhan residents were sealed in their homes for 76 days, confused and scared by a mystery virus killing their neighbours and relatives. Even before the latest virus flare-up, many were wary of surprise outbreaks and have been happy to keep exercising precautions.

Wang, for instance, is due to receive a vaccine – prioritised by the government as his job means coming into contact with different people daily. “I’ll get the jabs, but after that I’ll still wear a face mask.”

Ms Ma, a shop attendant, half-joking, jumped away when this reporter from Beijing approached. The capital city is rushing to mass test residents after finding transmissions in some neighbourhoods.

“Ah, stay far away from me!” she said, describing how a friend living in one of Beijing’s affected districts was recently ushered into quarantine upon arriving in Wuhan.

“We have to stay vigilant,” said Ms Qin, 55, while walking her two dogs. “I still don’t take the subway these days; it’s way too crowded and I’m scared of the risks.”

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Most people are doing their best to live with this new normal, slipping face masks below their chin to slurp spicy sesame noodles, a speciality, and shouting over loudspeakers triumphantly proclaiming Wuhan a “heroic city”, followed by reminders to ventilate indoor spaces.

“We aren’t exactly relaxed about the situation,” said Mr Li, 52. “But we do have to find ways to live with the stress.” For him, that means enjoying a cup of aged pu’er tea in his teahouse – a new location with cheaper rent.

The resurgence is alarming for Beijing a few weeks ahead of Chinese New Year, a travel period that ramped up infection spread across the country last year. This year, authorities have urged its 1.4 billion people to stay put.

It also comes as Beijing is eager to tout containment success and export its vaccines – a way to deflect growing global anger over its mistakes, which some health experts say may have exacerbated the pandemic.

Residents wear masks while queuing to buy milky tea in Wuhan on the first anniversary of lockdown.Credit:Getty Images

A massive new exhibition in Wuhan boasts of victory in what Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party leader, called the “people’s war” against the virus.

Visitors walk through China’s official narrative, which sources all virus achievements to Xi and praises him for pulling the country out of misfortune, making zero mention of missteps.

But there’s no mention of key figures – Ai Fen, punished for being one of the first doctors to sound the alarm, or Zhang Yongzhen, the virologist who mapped and shared the genome publicly without official permission.

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Whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang appears near the end on a wall of martyrs, but the sign omits that he was reprimanded by police after warning colleagues about a virus from which he later died.

Chinese government officials have stopped saying “lockdown”, instead using the euphemistic term “wartime measures” to mean the quarantine of millions, which occurs even if only a handful of infections are discovered. “Wuhan is the safest city in the world,” agrees Ma Lianping, 32, who owns a noodle shop across the street from Jinyintan Hospital, one of the first in the world to start treating coronavirus infections.

“I don’t really know about the government’s figures,” said a man running a funeral goods shop across from a crematorium. At pandemic peak, he saw dozens of corpses transported daily to be burned, more than the 10 or so a day now.

A few blocks from Wuhan Central Hospital, where Dr Li worked and later died, a cafe has on its menu “the whistleblower coffee – a 100 per cent controversial drink”.

More than 40 clinics in Wuhan have started administering vaccines. Nationwide, 15 million doses have been given, enough for about 1 per cent of the population.

Authorities aim to vaccinate 50 million people before Chinese New Year on February 12.

But some in Wuhan are again bedding in for the holiday. “No, I don’t trust the vaccine. It was developed based on last year’s virus,” said Mr Li, a taxi driver slated to receive a vaccine. “Now, new variants are circulating.”

The Telegraph, London

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Voices From China’s Covid Crisis, One Year After Wuhan Lockdown


They are survivors, essential workers and specialists still trying to understand the physical and emotional effects of the coronavirus. They make up a tapestry of people, offering a view of the first months of the pandemic, and of what China’s recovery means.

A year after the Covid-19 lockdown in the Chinese city of Wuhan — the first in the world, and still one of the harshest — we asked six people, some of whom we spoke to at the height of the outbreak, to describe what they have been through.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

One day in August, our manager reminded us that drivers always had to wear masks, no matter how much the situation had improved. Personally, I don’t know if it’s PTSD, but I always wear a mask. I’m probably the only driver in our company who still always carries hand sanitizer in my pocket and uses it regularly.

I always thought I wasn’t afraid of death. But I found out during the epidemic that I’m terrified of it. I missed my wife, my 5-year-old twin boys, my father, so much. I thought, if I survive this, what will I do?

So after the lockdown lifted, my first thought was going home. I stayed two months. In the past, I would stay two or three days, maybe a week, then hurry back. I don’t make a lot of money, and my mind was always on making more. But now, my thinking has changed. If I make a little more money, what’s the use?

I never thought that this sudden epidemic would create a situation where everyone said thank you. I was shocked. Wasn’t respect for people like experts, academics, celebrities? How could it go to a delivery worker? It made me so happy.

Now, things have gone back to the way they were last year. This is human nature.

Zhang Yongzhen, a virologist, came under immense official pressure after he released the full sequence of the new coronavirus on Jan. 11 of last year, in defiance of Chinese government orders. He remains absent from Beijing’s narrative of how the country beat the virus, in contrast with Zhong Nanshan, the government-appointed doctor celebrated for announcing what many experts had already figured out: that the virus could be transmitted by humans.

At that time, I made four findings about the virus. One, it was like SARS. Two, it was a new coronavirus. Most important, the virus was transmitted through the respiratory tract. I also thought it was more infectious than the flu virus. Even then, I thought it must be able to spread from humans to humans.

If more experts had shared my opinion from the beginning, then we may not have needed Zhong Nanshan to say something.

Whether in the United States or in China, we need to cultivate a group of critics — real scientists in the field. China really needs it. Zhong Nanshan is old. Who will be the next to dare to speak the truth? You must have enough courage to speak the truth.

I have since encountered some difficulties in terms of my work and funding for my programs. But I don’t regret anything I did. I trusted myself. I have so much experience, my team has made so many discoveries over the years, that we were able to make accurate judgments.

I hope you can mention one thing. My wife passed away on Oct. 13, 2019. We got married in 1989 and we were together for 30 years. If I have made any contribution to society, it is because of the support of my wife.

Blair Zong, 34, was one of hundreds of Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan, and she published a visual diary in February chronicling her quarantine on a military base in California. She is now in Austin, Texas, working as an event planner and a nanny.

After Wuhan locked down, I was nervous and anxious. I heard rumors about people dying and things got really scary. Someone sent me a report that said America was evacuating citizens, so I called the consulate. I made the decision to go and said goodbye to my mom and grandparents.

The day I left quarantine, there was a lady behind me in line in the San Diego airport who was coughing nonstop. I remember thinking at the time that it was a bad sign, but I also felt like there was no way the virus could spread here that badly. Everything was normal again.

But then starting in March, people here started buying up toilet paper, and the panic came back. The situation had stabilized in China, so my friends there started to mock me, asking: “Do you regret going back now?” One of my college friends in Wuhan sent me a package of goggles and masks.

I have become more calm and more careful about life. I accept everything as it comes. I’m trying to be more eco-friendly.

As Wuhan focused on fighting the coronavirus, Zhao Qian, 29, struggled to get medical treatment for her newborn daughter, who had a life-threatening heart condition.

At the time, hospitals weren’t taking in any patients, including our daughter. We tried so hard, we tapped every possible resource and connection, and it was only through our efforts that we were able to save our daughter’s life. All of the doctors had gone to the frontline.

Overall, though, the country’s policies were quite good. I remember when all the supermarkets were closed, some volunteers were still helping me buy food. No matter what unpleasant hearsay or rumors there may have been, I think the country was very powerful. Wuhan people are now very safe. It’s very reassuring.

Any Chinese person should feel very proud. No matter how great the hardship, even with an outbreak that was so serious that other countries couldn’t control it, as long as the people are unified, I think we can get through anything.

Lei Wuming, 50, a psychology professor at the Wuhan University of Technology, began hosting funerals over WeChat, a popular messaging app, to give grieving families a way to mourn.

Back then, I was like a priest hosting these funerals. I was also a psychologist. I helped create an atmosphere for families to express their grief. First, to express their grief, and second, to cherish the memories.

It brought families closer. They recalled the same memories and the same person and it made their relationship closer. They were huddling together to keep warm.

The families would set up a chat group. Then I would join. I would play some funeral music and then make a speech. Then I would name each person who would talk, one by one. They could choose to talk, type or even send emojis.

It was social support, so the family would feel, “I am not alone here. I have families and friends who are there for me.”

In retrospect, our death toll compared to Western countries — if it is truthfully reported — ours is quite low. But at the time of the pandemic, we didn’t think like that. We thought we were done for.

After Liu Pei’en’s father died from the coronavirus last January, he vowed to pressure the authorities to take responsibility for initially concealing the outbreak.

Looking back at the first half of last year, I was so angry. The local officials threatened me. I left Wuhan, and they still wouldn’t let it go. They harassed my relatives. They wanted to make it seem like I had a mental illness.

But in the second half of the year, I began to change. I devoted myself to studying Buddhism. Faith allows you to understand life and truth. I could see that retribution and killing have been a part of humanity from ancient times to the present.

My heart began to calm down. I am no longer angry and full of hate. Still, the pain is raw and I cry a lot.

I spend a lot of time praying. I try to donate as much money as I can to temples and other charity organizations for the poor and elderly around Wuhan. I have given more than 100,000 yuan ($15,000) in my father’s name, to help him earn merit.

Any dreams I had for making money before have now faded. Because what is the use of money anyway? Money can’t buy back life.

I realized I was ignorant when I thought I could sue the government. Nothing will come of it. And if you take a step back, everyone is guilty and will face karmic retribution.

I only care about the people around me, about being myself. I’m planning to take my mother to Sanya for Chinese New Year. That’s where we were going to go last year before my father was infected.

Reporting and research was contributed by Keith Bradsher, Albee Zhangand Coral Yang.

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Pride And Caution In Wuhan On Lockdown Anniversary


Exactly one year after it thrust the word “lockdown” into the global conversation, Wuhan passes the anniversary on Saturday with a mix of pride at recovering from the coronavirus and caution over a possible relapse.

A year ago Saturday, Wuhan shocked the world by ordering 11 million anxious citizens be confined at home, beginning a traumatic 76-day lockdown that underscored the growing threat of a then-mysterious pathogen emanating from the city.

One by one, adjacent metropolises in hard-hit Hubei province quickly followed suit, as did cities and entire countries worldwide as Covid-19 went global.





Anxiety lurks below the surface as localised clusters multiply across China, reviving memories of Wuhan’s ordeal
 AFP / Hector RETAMAL

But while the world’s pandemic struggles continue, Wuhan today is nothing like that locked-down ghost town of a year ago, with traffic humming, sidewalks bustling, and citizens packing public transport and parks.

Yet anxiety lurks below the surface as localised clusters multiply across China, reviving memories of the city’s ordeal.

They remain vivid for Huang Genben, 76, who spent 67 days in hospital fighting Covid-19 last year, spitting up blood and expecting to die.



While the world's pandemic struggles continue, Wuhan today is nothing like that locked-down ghost town of a year ago


While the world’s pandemic struggles continue, Wuhan today is nothing like that locked-down ghost town of a year ago
 AFP / Hector RETAMAL

“When I closed my eyes at night I didn’t know if I would open them again,” Huang told AFP.

Like many Chinese, he expresses pride at the “great efforts” made by the Beijing government and citizens to contain the pandemic, exemplified by hard-hit Wuhan.

The virus has killed at least two million people globally and continues to spread, but in China less than 5,000 deaths have been reported by authorities, the vast majority coming in Wuhan at the pandemic’s outset.



The government has pushed an official propaganda narrative -- starring Wuhan -- focusing on a "heroic" Chinese response and recovery


The government has pushed an official propaganda narrative — starring Wuhan — focusing on a “heroic” Chinese response and recovery
 AFP / Hector RETAMAL

And the city’s relaxed scenes — elderly dancers spinning in parks and crowded bars selling “Wuhan Stay Strong” craft beer — contrast with the rolling lockdowns, surging death rates and overwhelmed hospitals overseas.



There are no known lockdown commemorations planned Saturday by Beijing, which remains tight-lipped on the pandemic's early days


There are no known lockdown commemorations planned Saturday by Beijing, which remains tight-lipped on the pandemic’s early days
 AFP / Hector RETAMAL

“We can tell from the results that the policy of the government was correct, the cooperation of (Wuhan) citizens was correct. I feel pain seeing the epidemic all over the world,” Huang said.

The government has pushed an official propaganda narrative — starring Wuhan — focusing on a “heroic” Chinese response and recovery.

But there are no known lockdown commemorations planned Saturday by Beijing, which remains tight-lipped on the pandemic’s early days amid accusations it covered it up or mishandled the outbreak, allowing it to spread.

The virus is generally believed to have spread outward from a Wuhan wet market where exotic animals were sold as food.

But China has otherwise released little information on its origins, fuelling calls in the west for more transparency.

The lockdown anniversary comes with World Health Organization experts just days from completing a two-week quarantine in Wuhan before launching a planned investigation into the coronavirus’s origins.

The WHO said Friday it was too early to draw any conclusions as to whether the pandemic started in China.

“All hypotheses are on the table,” said WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan.

While other nations, notably the United States, have dithered on their coronavirus response, Wuhan shut down completely, plunging its economy into recession.

State media reports — and activity on the streets — attest to an impressive recovery, but some say it remains incomplete and many residents voice wariness of a viral resurgence.

Xu Jiajun, a 58-year-old street vendor of local foods, drinks, and other items, said times remain tough.

“The situation is not good. I don’t have a stable income like I did before. Things have changed,” he said.



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