A Year After Outbreak, Wuhan Kin Struggle To Move On

Wuhan native Liu Pei’en shut down his investment business and converted to Buddhism to try to make sense of his father’s death last January from suspected Covid-19.

Zhong Hanneng still struggles to sleep or eat following the death of her son from the disease nearly 10 months ago, and says friends and relatives are shunning her family because of lingering fears of infection.

One year after the coronavirus began spreading from the city, they and other Wuhan next-of-kin are no nearer to closure, as the Chinese government’s refusal to take responsibility for early failures in the outbreak complicates the task of coming to terms with their loss.

Liu Pei’en’s 78-year-old father developed Covid-19 symptoms after checking in to a hospital for a routine health exam in Wuhan

Liu’s 78-year-old father, Liu Ouqing, a career public servant and former Communist Party secretary of Wuhan’s grain bureau, developed Covid-19 symptoms after checking in to a hospital for a routine health exam, unaware of the rapidly spreading danger.

His diagnosis was never confirmed as test kits were scarce then. He died on January 29.

“You could say I also died January 29,” Liu, 44, said in an interview on his father’s birthday at the family apartment in an upscale Wuhan neighbourhood.

Wuhan native Liu Pei'en shut down his business and converted to Buddhism to try to make sense of his father's death last January from suspected Covid-19

Wuhan native Liu Pei’en shut down his business and converted to Buddhism to try to make sense of his father’s death last January from suspected Covid-19

Liu spent much of 2020 in “a kind of madness,” using social media to channel his anger over the government’s handling of the outbreak.

“I was extremely angry. I wanted revenge,” Liu said.

Families accuse the city government of initially concealing the outbreak’s emergence in December 2019, pressuring doctors to keep quiet and denying human-to-human transmission.

Zhong Hanneng blames city authorities for the death of her son Peng Yi, a 39-year-old primary school teacher

Zhong Hanneng blames city authorities for the death of her son Peng Yi, a 39-year-old primary school teacher

The danger was hidden from citizens for weeks, allowing the virus to explode into a global pandemic.

Nearly 4,000 people died in Wuhan, according to official figures, the vast majority of China’s deaths.

Exhausted and frustrated, Liu later focused his energy on Buddhist philosophy. He now shuns meat, alcohol, and social gatherings.

Wuhan is clawing back to normal, but fear of the virus lingers, especially with another winter setting in

Wuhan is clawing back to normal, but fear of the virus lingers, especially with another winter setting in

He mothballed his successful investment business, saying money has “no meaning” any longer.

Liu is now on a spiritual quest for the “objective truth of the universe,” marking his father’s birthday at a stately temple, where he lit candles and prayed before a towering three-metre (10-foot) golden Buddha.

China’s government is notoriously allergic to criticism and its initial missteps in Wuhan are among the country’s most politically sensitive topics.

Zhong Hanneng still struggles to sleep or eat following the death of her son from Covid-19 nearly 10 months ago in Wuhan

Zhong Hanneng still struggles to sleep or eat following the death of her son from Covid-19 nearly 10 months ago in Wuhan

Several next-of-kin declined AFP interview requests or abruptly cancelled.

The government continues to dodge responsibility, instead promoting unproven theories that the pathogen originated elsewhere, while trumpeting its subsequent success in suppressing it.

But Zhong, a 67-year-old retiree, blames city authorities for the death of her son Peng Yi, a 39-year-old primary school teacher.


He died in mid-February after a frustrating two-week quest to get admitted to overcrowded hospitals, leaving behind a wife and young daughter.

Zhong is among a handful of Wuhan residents who have tried to sue the city. Courts have refused to accept the suits.

Her family talk daily to a framed portrait of Peng, filling him in on family matters, and set out chopsticks and a bowl of food each night for him at dinner. The pain at the table is often unbearable, she says.

She remains haunted by the image of her son dying alone in an ICU ward.

“I worry that I will get depression. I feel very irritable and uncomfortable every day,” she said, as a bone-chilling rain drenched the grey and dreary city.

Wuhan is clawing back to normal, but fear of the virus lingers, especially with another winter setting in.

Zhong believes she and her husband also had the virus but recovered and voices suspicions, widespread in Wuhan, that case numbers and deaths are actually far higher as many went undiagnosed.

Fear of catching the virus from Zhong’s family has caused a rift with other friends and relatives.

“No one wants to associate with us. We are very lonely. Very lonely,” Zhong said.

Dozens of next-of-kin have joined social media groups for mutual support and to discuss legal options.

But the groups have been infiltrated by police, who harass and threaten participants, say members.

And there is infighting, with more litigious group members accusing others of cowardice for not pursuing lawsuits, Liu said.

“There’s a Chinese saying, ‘sadden your own people, and you gladden the enemy,'” Liu said.

“The police are very happy to see this abuse between family members.”

Wuhan’s government did not respond to AFP requests for comment.

“We didn’t know it was so serious,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Like Zhong, she complains that friends and relatives are resisting contact and feels depressed about her loss and the government “whitewash.”

“Life will go on, but there is no way to wipe away this shadow.”

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Coronavirus update: Domestic flights return to pre-pandemic levels in Wuhan

The number of domestic passengers arriving in Wuhan has returned to pre-pandemic levels as China closes in on having a month without registering a locally transmitted case.

Meanwhile, cases are surging in Indonesia, Austria and the Czech Republic — where there have been four days of record daily infection rises in the past week.

This story will be regularly updated throughout Monday.

Monday’s key moments:

Domestic flights back to normal in outbreak’s epicentre

Domestic air travel in Wuhan, the epicentre of the global coronavirus outbreak, has returned to pre-pandemic levels, authorities say.

The virus was first detected in Wuhan late last year and the city underwent a draconian 76-day lockdown as its hospitals struggled to deal with a wave of cases that required the rapid construction of field hospitals to handle the overflow.

Since reopening in early April, life has gradually returned to normal and numbers of domestic flights serving the city, as well as the number of passengers, had both fully recovered, according to the operator of Wuhan Tianhe International airport.

It said 64,700 passengers were transported aboard 500 domestic flights on Friday.

The airport is preparing to eventually resume international passenger flights to destinations such as Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, Qu Xiaoni, the state-run Xinhua News Agency quoted an airport representative as saying.

International cargo routes have already re-opened.

China has gone almost a month without registering a new case of local transmission and on Sunday the National Health Commission reported just 10 new cases — all of them imported.

Hospitals are treating 151 people for COVID-19 and another 357 people are in isolation after testing positive for the disease without showing any symptoms, the commission said.

China has reported a total of 85,184 cases of COVID-19 with 4,634 deaths.

Indonesia reports sixth consecutive day of over 3,000 new infections

All non-essential workers in Jakarta will have to work from home for at least the next two weeks.(AP: Firdia Lisnawati)

Indonesia has reported its sixth consecutive day of over 3,000 new cases, just as the capital city of South-East Asia’s most populous country prepares to bring back social-distancing restrictions.

New infections on Sunday reached 3,636 with new deaths at 73. That brought the total number of infections to 218,382 and deaths to 8,723.

To try and stem the spread of the virus in Jakarta, employees of businesses considered non-essential will be required to work from home from Monday.

Certain government workers will be allowed to work from offices.

Markets and shopping centres will be permitted to stay open at half capacity, and restaurants within shopping centres will be allowed to operate for takeaway only.

The curbs will be implemented for two weeks, but could be extended.

Second wave emerges in Austria

Two women wearing face masks walk across a street in bright sunlight.
Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian is appealing to his compatriots to comply with newly reinforced rules to keep down infections.(AP: Ronald Zak/File)

Austria’s leader said his country has been seeing the start of a second wave of infections.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced on Friday that the Austrian Government would reimpose measures such as an obligation to wear masks in shops to curb a rise in new infections.

Austria recorded 859 new infections on Friday, the highest daily figure since late March.

Mr Kurz stepped up his rhetoric on Sunday and said developments in Vienna are “particularly dramatic,” with the city accounting for around half of new cases.

Mr Kurz said that Austria will soon be dealing with 1,000 new cases per day.

He called on Austrians to reduce social contacts, wear masks and keep their distance “as well as possible”.

He predicted “a tough autumn and winter,” though he stuck to his assessment that things should be largely normal by next summer.

Record infection rise in Czech Republic

Coronavirus infections have continued to grow in the Czech Republic, reaching a record level for the fourth day this week.

The Health Ministry said the day-to-day increase in new cases reached 1,541 on Saturday, a record high for the country.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech said “nobody expected” such a spike.

The Czech Republic has had 35,401 cases overall, including 453 deaths.


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Coronavirus update: Back to school in Wuhan as Oxford vaccine enters phase three trials in US

Some 1.4 million pupils have returned to school in Wuhan, the Chinese city that shot to prominence for being the original epicentre of coronavirus.

Meanwhile Hungary has received a rebuke from the European Union for taking action similar to Australia and closing its borders to anyone who is not a Hungarian citizen.

This story will be regularly updated throughout Wednesday.

Wednesday’s key moments:

Wuhan goes back to school

More than 2,800 schools have finally welcomed back pupils in Wuhan.(Reuters/China Daily CDIC)

After months of lockdowns children have returned to school in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the original epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.

The city now has not seen new cases of local transmission for weeks.

State media reported 1.4 million children in the city reported to 2,842 kindergartens, primary and secondary schools as part of a nationwide return to classes.

Life has largely returned to normal in Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first detected late last year.

After what critics called an attempt to ignore the outbreak, the city underwent a 76-day lockdown during which residents were confined to their homes and field hospitals opened to assist an overwhelmed medical system.

Wuhan marked a milestone on Sunday when its last confirmed case, a patient who brought the virus from overseas, was released from a city hospital.

Oxford vaccine enters phase three trials in the US

An employee wears a mask, goggles and hairnet at the Brazilian trials for the potential coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford.
The Australian Government has an agreement with Oxford to obtain its coronavirus vaccine.(Reuters: Amanda Perobelli)

British drug manufacturer AstraZeneca said a potential coronavirus vaccine has entered phase three trials in the US to test the effectiveness and safety of the product

The company said the trial would involve up to 30,000 adults from various racial, ethnic and geographic groups across the US.

AstraZeneca says development of the vaccine known as AZD1222 is moving ahead globally with late-stage trials in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. Further trials are planned in Japan and Russia.

The potential vaccine was invented by Oxford University and an associated company, Vaccitech.

Last month, the Morrison Government announced it had signed a “letter of intent” with AstraZeneca to obtain 25 million free doses of the vaccine if it proved effective.

Oxford Biomedica said Tuesday that it had signed an agreement with AstraZeneca for “commercial manufacture” of AZD1222.

The company says it will reserve capacity at a new manufacturing centre in Oxford, England, for an initial period of 18 months, with the possibility of extending the deal for a further 18 months.

Oxford Biomedica says it will receive 15 million pounds ($27.3 million) as a capacity reservation fee, plus as much as 35 million pounds for the manufacture of multiple large-scale batches of the vaccine, if it proves effective.

Manila partially reopens despite high national case numbers

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte holds documents and wears a mask.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte instituted one of the region’s harshest lockdowns, but the country now has South-East Asia’s highest number of coronavirus cases.(Presidential Communications Operations Office: Joey Dalumpines)

Gyms, barber shops and internet cafes were allowed to partly reopen in Manila on Tuesday as the Government further eased quarantine restrictions despite the country having the most coronavirus infections in South-East Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, placed the southern city of Iligan under a mild lockdown after a rise in community infections, underscoring how COVID-19 cases have spread away from the capital, metropolitan Manila, the epicentre of the pandemic in the country.

Night curfew hours have been shortened in most cities in the capital and outlying provinces under the new arrangements, which will last for a month.

Mr Duterte announced that medical personnel, who could be ejected because of fears by landlords that they are virus carriers, would be given free lodging and food near their hospitals.

More than 220,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including about 3,500 deaths, have been reported in the Philippines, which has struggled to find a balance between restricting public mobility to curb the virus and reviving an economy that has fallen into recession.

Hungary’s border closures prompt EU rebuke

A man in a suit stands on stage at a podium
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has come under fire for making the unilateral border decision.(AP: Szilard Koszticsak)

The European Union warned Hungary that it cannot close its borders to all foreigners and allow only its own citizens back in.

The Hungarian Government introduced the measures on Tuesday in response to what it said was a second wave of coronavirus infections in Europe.

Hungarians returning from abroad will now need to quarantine for two weeks unless they twice test negative for coronavirus.

Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, said foreigners now cannot enter the country, except in “justified cases” but he did not elaborate on what those cases are.

Hungary, an EU-member nation of 9.7 million people, has reported only 616 confirmed virus-related deaths and, unlike France or Spain, is not seen as a current virus hotspot in Europe.

It registered 132 new cases on Friday, the nation’s second-highest figure since the start of the pandemic.

Budapest’s latest move adds to growing concerns that European countries struggling to cope with the virus are imposing uncoordinated border restrictions within Europe.

This puts one of the EU’s foundational doctrines in jeopardy, that being the free movement of goods and people.

European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told reporters that “there can be no discrimination between EU citizens when it comes to travel restrictions”.

US carmakers press the pedal on ventilator production

You view a ventilator on display in a manufacturing room with the words 'Vocsn' and 'General Motors' written on its front.
A completed ventilator shown at a General Motors components plant.(Reuters: Chris Bergin)

General Motors says it has finished making 30,000 medical breathing machines for the US Government to help treat coronavirus patients.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) contracted with GM to build the ventilators at a converted auto electronics plant in Kokomo, Indiana, at a cost of $US489.4 million ($663.9 million).

The machines were designed by Ventec Life Systems of the Seattle area, and GM ramped up production in about a month when it appeared the US and other countries would run short of ventilators.

The ventilators were to be finished by Monday.

GM says Tuesday it has turned over control of the Kokomo operation to Ventec, which will continue to make ventilators there and in Bothell, Washington.

Earlier Ford announced it had finished making 50,000 ventilators for the Government.

A portion of a factory near Detroit was converted to make the machines, it will now go back to producing auto parts.


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WHO didn’t visit Wuhan on its coronavirus investigation visit to China

It’s widely understood that the coronavirus pandemic sparking global chaos began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but amazingly World Health Organisation experts beginning an investigation into the virus have not stepped foot in the city.

The admission from the WHO overnight is fuelling concern among some Western governments that the international probe into the origins of the coronavirus will be a dud.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters overnight that two investigators from the health body flew into China from Geneva and spent the past three weeks there.

However, he admitted they had no intention to travel to Wuhan where the first cases of novel coronavirus were detected in December 2019. The virus has gone on to kill more than 800,000 people around the world.

He said the team was merely laying the groundwork for a full international mission to investigate the virus.

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The decision not to visit Wuhan has fuelled concern the Chinese government could knock back any attempt at an impartial inquiry into COVID-19.

Liberal MP Dave Sharma said he was “alarmed” the team spent so much time in China but did not visit Wuhan, the “origin of the outbreak” and the home of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“If this investigation is to help prevent future pandemics, it must be independent and enjoy unfettered access,” Mr Sharma said.

“The WHO needs to put the public health interest of the world before the sensitivities of any particular nation.”

After initially rejecting calls from Australia, the US and other countries for a probe into the outbreak, Chinese president Xi Jinping in May endorsed a WHO-led inquiry.

But the WHO mission “to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population” – backed by more than 130 countries – has been plagued by concerns over transparency and access to key sites.

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Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, said in July he believed the results of the inquiry would be “completely whitewashed”. In May, President Donald Trump terminated US ties with the WHO, which he said was under the “total control” of Beijing.

The fact that WHO officials didn’t visit Wuhan has fuelled further scepticism.

“The WHO delegation sat in Beijing for three weeks and got nowhere near Wuhan,” a senior US official told the Financial Times. “Any chance of finding a smoking gun is now gone.”

However, the WHO has defended its tactics, saying the three-week visit was just one part of a two-part process.

“The purpose of their visit was to prepare the conditions for the expert group that will travel to do the study,” Dr Tedros told reporters.

“So it wasn’t to start the study, but rather to develop the terms of reference and to prepare the conditions so that the international group can have … the things it needs to start the study.

“It was not their intention to start the study and they had no plan to travel to Wuhan.”

He said that when the international experts gather in China to officially start the study, they will “naturally” begin their investigation in Wuhan.

“It is the basics of inquiries like these to start the study from where the first report came and the first report of the virus came from Wuhan,” he said.

He said the WHO investigators who have just been in China also had a video conference with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Meanwhile, a top Chinese government’s diplomat claimed overnight it was unclear whether the coronavirus first originated in China.

Speaking during a visit to Norway, State Councillor Wang Yi said that, while China was the first country to report the existence of the virus to the World Health Organisation, “it does not mean that the virus originated in China”.

“Actually, for the past months, we have seen reports … showing that the virus emerged in different parts of the world, and may have emerged earlier than in China,” Mr Wang told reporters, speaking through an interpreter.

“Where did the virus first start and how it started … should be left to scientists and medical experts … It should not politicised or stigmatised. Who is patient zero? It is still unknown.”

The attacks on Australia over its push for the inquiry also continued this week, with a Beijing envoy likening Australia’s move to Brutus plotting against Julius Caesar in the days of ancient Rome.

Wang Xining, the Chinese embassy’s deputy head of mission, made the remarks in a rare public address as he spoke of the “indignation, anger and frustration” felt by China at Australia’s push for a global inquiry.

“It is approximately identical to Julius Caesar in his final days when he saw Brutus approaching him,” Mr Wang said.

China reacted with fury when Australia led calls in April for the independent probe into the virus.

Beijing subsequently imposed tariffs on Australian goods and warned Chinese tourists and students against visiting the country, citing alleged racial harassment against Asians.

Expanding on Beijing’s reaction, Mr Wang said Australia had “singled out” China in its call for an inquiry and had not given any notice of its plans.

“All of a sudden, they (the world) heard this shocking news of a proposal coming from Australia, which is supposed to be a good friend of China,” he said.

Mr Wang said Australia had “hurt the feelings” of China’s 1.4 billion people with its actions.

Sydney MP Mr Sharma hit back at Mr Wang on Wednesday.

“Hurt feelings??” he wrote on Twitter. “At latest count COVID-19 has killed 800,000 people worldwide and caused economic disruption on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.

“If getting to the bottom of what caused this generates some ‘hurt feelings’, I think that is the least of our concerns.”

Mr Wang added, subsequent China’s trade action against Australia’s lucrative beef, wine and barley industries was not a retaliation, but rather due to “technical issues”.

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Coronavirus: Wuhan whistle-blower’s hospital replaces party chief

The Communist Party chief at the Wuhan hospital where whistle-blowing doctor Li Wenliang worked will leave her post following a leadership shake-up.Lung disease expert Wang Weihua, 53, will replace Cai Li as the Communist Party Secretary for Wuhan Central Hospital, state media reported on Friday.Cai, 58, had been at the helm of the hospital since July 2017. The announcement did not say what her next job would be or if she would retire.A staff member at the hospital’s publicity department…

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Wuhan records only 300 positive coronavirus cases from extensive testing of nearly 10 million

China tested almost 10 million people for coronavirus in just over two weeks in Wuhan, the city where the pandemic began, officials said Tuesday, reporting only a few hundred positive cases.

Chinese authorities claim to have largely brought the virus under control but Wuhan officials – wary of a second wave – launched the programme after new infections emerged for the first time since the city re-opened in April following more than two months in lockdown.

More than 9.8 million people were tested in the city of 11 million people between 14 May and 1 June, officials said at a press conference.

More than 9 million people were tested for coronavirus in Wuhan over ten days


Officials added that the 300 positive results were among asymptomatic patients.

“These numbers show that Wuhan is now the safest city,” said Feng Zijian, deputy director of China’s National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Residents queued up across the city at makeshift sites set up under tents in parking lots, parks and residential communities to give nucleic acid test samples – with roughly half a million such medical checks conducted every day during the period.

China does not include asymptomatic cases in its tally of confirmed infections.

No asymptomatic people were found to have infected others, said Lu Zuxun, a public health expert from Wuhan’s Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

The city found a handful of asymptomatic cases on most days of the testing campaign, which was initially described as a 10-day “decisive battle,” but reported zero asymptomatic cases for the first time on Monday.

The virus first emerged in Wuhan late last year, but cases have dwindled dramatically from the peak in mid-February as China appears to have brought the outbreak largely under control.

The official death toll in the country of 1.4 billion people stands at 4,634 – most in Wuhan, and well below the number of fatalities in much smaller countries.

However, doubt has been cast on the reliability of China’s numbers and the United States has led the charge in questioning how much information Beijing has shared with the international community.

Wuhan’s testing blitz cost the city government around 900 million yuan ($127 million), vice mayor Hu Yabo said on Tuesday.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government’s coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone’s app store. SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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COVID-19 leaking from Wuhan laboratory is the ‘only plausible explanation’

Author Clive Hamilton says the idea the coronavirus originated in December in a Wuhan wet market “simply doesn’t stack up,” as evidence mounts that the virus in fact leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

US and UK intelligence agencies are currently reviewing private analysis of cell phone location data which purports to show the Wuhan Institute of Virology shut down from October 7 through to October 24.

Mr Hamilton told Sky News host Sharri Markson there is a great deal of evidence which shows many cases of COVID-19 befell people in Wuhan who had “no contact” with the wet markets, nor contact with anybody who did.

“The only other plausible explanation is that it was a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology”.

He said this hypothesis has been supported by Chinese scientists as the laboratory notoriously handled the “most dangerous viruses in the world, including some bat coronaviruses”.

Image: Getty

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