Volunteers from Blue Sky Rescue, China’s largest non-profit civilian rescue organization, carry heavy disinfection equipment to sterilize Changsha Railway Station, Changsha, Hunan Province, on February 4BIUCX↑↓✎
Patients lie in beds in a quarantine center on February 17. The makeshift hospital was transformed from the gymnasium of Wuhan Sports Center, providing 1,100 beds for confirmed patients with mild symptoms of Covid-19BIUCX↑↓✎
A man drags a shopping cart along a deserted street in Wuhan, which was put into lockdown on January 23BIUCX↑↓✎
As train passengers arrived at Wuhan’s stations in mid-January, conductors announced in a stern tone: “Once you exit the station, you won’t be able to leave the city for a period.”
With a population of more than 11 million, Wuhan is at the confluence of the Yangtze River and its largest tributary, the Han River. The capital of Central China’s Hubei Province has long been an important shipping and transport hub.
When the Covid-19 epidemic officially broke out on January 23, China imposed a lockdown in Wuhan to stop the virus from spreading. Authorities placed travel restrictions on Wuhan and neighboring cities. Private vehicles were banned in the downtown area. Highway exits were blocked. Residents could not leave the city.
But not everyone was quarantined at home. An army of volunteers including doctors, nurses, drivers, supply delivery teams, pet rescuers and psychiatrists stepped up to help their hometown during the crisis.
Community Driver: Chen Fei
When the epidemic broke out, Chen Fei’s family hid his car keys. He works as a part-time ride share driver in Wuhan, and they didn’t want him going out for work. But over the following days, Chen left home earlier and returned later than usual. He was volunteering as a much-needed driver.
“People in Wuhan didn’t have any experience [in fighting a virus] before. Some friends working in hospitals warned me how serious the situation was, but we were so careless at first that we didn’t wear masks,” Chen told NewsChina.
Chen said a short video shot in a local hospital showing exhausted doctors and nurses sleeping on the ground in rows inspired him to help. He joined a group offering free rides to medical workers in the city’s Qingshan District.
Mei Yi, a nurse at the China Resource & WISCO General Hospital in Wuhan, left a deep impression on Chen. On January 25, Chinese New Year’s Day, Mei left her hometown for Wuhan to work. More than 100 kilometers away in the city of Huanggang, Mei paid a driver 1,000 yuan (US$143) to take her to Wuhan’s city limits. There, Chen Fei picked her up and drove her to the hospital for free.
“She wept after getting in the car,” Chen said. “She told me that her family strongly disapproved of her decision to go back to Wuhan. She was under a lot of pressure but still insisted on going.” Mei told him that a colleague and her roommate who returned to work several days earlier had been infected, which added to her sorrow and fears.
The Wuhan government banned non-essential vehicles in downtown areas to contain the virus outbreak on January 26. To help residents gain access to daily necessities, authorities recruited 6,000 taxi and ride-share drivers to serve 1,159 communities in Wuhan. They allotted each community a minimum of four cars.
Chen would leave home at 7am to bring medical personnel to work and then return to help residents of the Dongshanting community.
The team of volunteer drivers expanded daily. They formed groups on WeChat. Chen joined three groups, which already had 1,000 volunteer drivers.
Every time he dropped someone off, Chen disinfected his car carefully with medicinal-grade alcohol.
Among the more than 30 volunteer drivers in one of Chen’s groups, two became infected. All Chen could do was self-quarantine when not volunteering. Every night when he returned home, Chen maintained a distance from his family members, ate alone and locked himself in his bedroom.
Delivery Organizer: Xue Qing
Paramedics rush to get a patient at Xinhua Jiayuan Community in Wuhan on the evening of January 29BIUCX↑↓✎
More than five million people left Wuhan before the Spring Festival. With the city on lockdown indefinitely, it was still unclear when authorities would allow them to return.
As a result, tens of thousands of pets were left in apartments to starve. Someone was determined to save them.
Lao Man has been rescuing Wuhan’s stray cats for 13 years. In 2007, Lao opened the first cat rescue center in Wuhan where he cares for more than 100 homeless cats.
On January 25, Lao took to WeChat offering to help people care for their left-behind cats. Within hours, hundreds of cat owners contacted him for help. So far he has received more than 1,700 requests.
Lao first coordinates with the owner to get a spare key. If there was none available, Lao gets the owner to call a locksmith.
Most of the homes he entered were a mess of overturned furniture and trash. “A cat’s IQ is roughly equivalent to that of a 2-year-old child. So, stressed by hunger and anxiety, they let out their feelings,” Lao told NewsChina. He explained that many were dehydrated and developed fatty liver and gastrointestinal dysfunction. Some showed signs of psychological trauma.
Lao contacts cat owners through video chat from their homes. After making sure the cat was safe, he leaves a large basin of water and a onemonth supply of cat food.
Some asked Lao to foster their cats. At his rescue center, cats are kept in separate cages for safety reasons. “To prevent cross-infections, we make sure they are isolated and each has its own litter tray,” he said.
Every day from 8am to 12pm, Lao drives across different districts to rescue cats. Usually he rescues 20 a day.
Lao said he could not shake the fear of driving through the city. “I have never seen Wuhan in such a state before: so empty, so quiet. You hardly see any pedestrians or cars on the street. It’s like living in the world of Resident Evil,” Lao said.
But he was determined despite the risks. “After all, cats matter to me,” he said.
Psychiatrist: Yang Ying