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How Are Wuhan Residents Coping Mentally After 7 Weeks Of Quarantine?


Wuhan is the city in China where the coronavirus is thought to have originated. People who live there have been under lockdown for more than 50 days. Try to imagine what that's like. Here's NPR's Pien Huang.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: There's been a whole range of feelings that have erupted in Wuhan since the city locked down in late January. In the first week, the quarantine caught people by surprise. It was just before the Lunar New Year, and people were on holiday. Lin Yang had come home to Wuhan to visit her parents. And then came word of the coronavirus quarantine.

LIN YANG: Everyone was shocked. Well, how come - this thing's getting so worse?

HUANG: She says in the days before the lockdown, the media and the government seemed to say the virus was no big deal. Then authorities announced that nobody could leave the city, and public transportation was cancelled. That was all in the first week. And the second week, Yang says, people started freaking out.

YANG: There's so many people infected, and the number of death actually increased as well. So it's panic. But in the third week, we kind of tried to accept this as a reality. And we need to change our lifestyle to adapt to this new life.

HUANG: For Yang, adapting meant meal planning and working with neighbors to get food and supplies delivered. Yang is an epidemiologist at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. So she was able to work remotely, teaching classes online. The quarantine has stretched to seven weeks. It's an unprecedented attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, a disease which has sickened more than 125,000 people and killed more than 4,500 worldwide. Dr. Laura Hawryluck teaches critical care medicine at the University of Toronto. She's studied the mental health of people mostly health care workers, who were quarantined during SARS, a different coronavirus outbreak there in 2003. She says that while most people in quarantine did not get sick with SARS...

LAURA HAWRYLUCK: What we found is that experience of going into quarantine, of being isolated led a lot of people to experience quite significant levels of psychological distress.

HUANG: Such as anxiety, isolation. In the daytime, they were angry and frustrated. When they slept, they had nightmares. Those that had the hardest time stacked worry on top of worry - money, health, family. When people's loved ones got sick, it added to all that fear and anxiety. Ye Xiaoping is a social worker in south China. She volunteers with an online support group put together by medical professionals and social workers. They provide advice to people in Wuhan about coronavirus, as well as emotional support. Ye says one case the support group is working with really sticks with her. It's a 60-year-old woman whose older brother got sick from coronavirus and died just five days later.

YE XIAOPING: (Through interpreter) After her brother died, she was consumed by fear that she had caught the virus.

HUANG: Ye says that people are also scared to seek treatment in Wuhan's field hospitals because they don't know what to expect.

YE: (Through interpreter) People fear being infected, fear being cold, fear being hungry, fear going in, being neglected and dying there.

HUANG: The online support group helps calm their fears by sharing other people's experiences. They show them pictures and share daily schedules and give them advice on what to bring. In uncertain times, Ye says, knowing what they'll eat and where they'll sleep helps people face the unknown.

Pien Huang, NPR News.


Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.