Wuhan neighbourhood sees infections after 40,000 families gather for potluck

Medical staff members wearing protective clothing arrive with a patient at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on January 25, 2020. - AFP

WUHAN (The Straits Times/ANN): A neighbourhood in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where a new coronavirus first broke out, reported at least 10 cases of infection after the local government allowed 40,000 families to gather and share their home-cooked food in a Lunar New Year banquet last month, even as the bug creeps across the city.

Many residents of Hubei province's Baibuting community, which covers an area of 4sq km with a population of 130,000, came down with fever after the traditional event on Jan 18, prompting local authorities to label 57 of its residential buildings as "fever buildings", Caixin Global reported.

"On Feb 1, we found more than 10 suspected cases, and to my best knowledge there were two infections. There are more cases that I don't know of," a Baibuting residential community worker told Caixin Global on Tuesday (Feb 4).

Residents in the so-called fever buildings - each housing 14 units - said they were not advised by officials on what precautions to take even after the entrance of their buildings were pasted with red paper bearing the words "fever building".

"Being listed a 'fever building' does not affect our lives. We don't really get out of the house now. Occasionally we go downstairs to buy things and no one controls us," said a resident.

According to the Chinese language Economic Observer, there were at least 10 cases of infection identified as at Feb 4.

The first cases of the virus were detected in Wuhan when workers at the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market that sold seafood, animals and birds fell ill with a mysterious pneumonia.

On Dec 31 last year, China reported the string of cases for the first time to the World Health Organization, 23 days after the first patient sought medical attention on Dec 8.

The following day, the seafood market was shut down.

In an interview on Jan 21 with Chinese broadcaster CCTV, Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang argued that the annual event was given the greenlight this year despite the risks involved, as the decision was made "based on the judgment that human-to-human transmission was limited".

On the day the interview was aired, China confirmed 291 cases of infection, including 270 in Hubei. Zhou also revealed that six Wuhan residents had died after catching the virus.

Two days later, the city of 11 million was locked down in an effort to quarantine the epicentre.

Zhou later took responsibility for the delay in reporting the scale of the epidemic, but said he was hampered by the national law on infectious diseases.

That law allows provincial governments to declare an epidemic only after receiving central government approval.

"After I receive information, I can only release it when I'm authorised," he said.

The coronavirus has since killed 563 people and infected 28,018 in mainland China.

Other countries and regions reported around 200 infections, with one death each in Hong Kong and the Philippines. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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