China’s main method of responding to the outbreak of 2019-nCoV, as it’s known? A mandatory limit on the movement of people who may have been exposed to the virus, known as a quarantine.
Quarantines have been used to control the spread of disease since 1377. But never has anyone attempted a quarantine as large this one in China.
On January 23, authorities introduced travel restrictions in three cities — Wuhan, Huanggang, and Ezhou — affecting 20 million people. Within days, the quarantine was extended to additional provinces and cities, impacting more than 50 million people in total. It’s “the mother of all quarantines,” University of Michigan medical historian Howard Markel told The Washington Post. “I could never have imagined it.” Public transport has been suspended. Flights cancelled. Inter-province bus services, stopped.
On January 25, President Xi Jinping said the new virus posed a “grave” threat, and his government ordered travel agencies to halt tours for Chinese citizens inside China and overseas.
But here’s the thing: History shows these types travel restrictions aren’t very helpful in stopping outbreaks. At best, they delay the spread of disease — but don’t impact the number of people who eventually get sick. People go underground, finding ways to travel in spite of the restrictions. And when restrictions are lifted, viruses can make their way out again.
Still, quarantine seems to be one of China’s most prominent tools for controlling the spread of the virus right now. Here’s what life under quarantine in China looks like on the ground.
A woman wearing a protective mask rides a motorized bike on an empty road in Wuhan, China. Travel restrictions in cities across China are affecting over 50 million people
A man sprays disinfectant. A new study shows the virus took off weeks earlier than Chinese officials have suggested.
Workers disinfect a government building in Hangzhou located in China’s Zhejiang province.
A woman checks her son’s temperature in Wuhan, China. More than 107 have people dead from the virus.
Construction machinery sits at the site of a planned temporary field hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Wuhan Leishenshan hospital will be completed next week, with a capacity of 1,300 beds.
The medical staff of Union Hospital in Wuhan, China.
A worker produces protective suits at a factory in Nantong in China’s Jiangsu province.
A police officer takes the temperature of a driver at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Wuhan, China.
Subway riders in Hong Kong wear face masks as they head home, following reports of the coronavirus appearing in the region. There are now five cases confirmed in the US.
A group of women wear protective masks while exercising in Wuhan, China. A handful of cases have also been confirmed in 12 other countries including: South Korea, Thailand, France, Australia, and Japan.
A worker takes away an escaped giant salamander just caught at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, which was shut down due to its connection to some of the first 2019-nCoV cases.
A security guard stands outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.