A man wearing a face mask is seen under a bridge of Yangtze river in Wuhan after the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province and China's epicentre of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. PHOTO: REUTERS

Lockdown lifted, Wuhan's residence committees keep watch

Residential committees to help prevent the complete resumption of free movement

Reuters April 16, 2020
WUHAN, CHINA: The lockdown of the Chinese city of Wuhan may have lifted, but Feng Jing keeps watching the 5,400 residents in the Tanhualin neighbourhood to see where they go and how they are feeling, guarding against the coronavirus creeping back.

Feng is the head of the neighbourhood’s residential committee, among thousands tasked in late January with ensuring people in the city of 11 million stayed home to curb the spread of the virus.

A legacy of the Mao Zedong era, residential committees are staffed mainly by members of the ruling Communist Party and have been key to supporting epidemic control efforts as they kept locked-in residents fed and supplied, carried out regular disinfection operations, and looked after vulnerable people including the elderly.

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While the city has reopened shopping malls and allowed companies to resume work, residential committees have been ordered to keep a careful watch on households to help prevent the complete resumption of free movement.

Wuhan was the epicentre of China’s epidemic, and was where the outbreak first occurred. Haunted by what the city endured during the past few months, people have an abiding fear of a second wave of contagion, although new cases have slowed to a trickle in recent weeks.

But, the prolonged vigilance and control over movement has also raised questions over how long the watch over people’s lives could last and whether the city will truly return to normal.

“We still don’t let residents go out, only those who have resumed work can go out if they have a green health code,” Feng, who runs a team of 14 community workers, told reporters last week during a government-arranged tour.

At that time, Tanhualin had been free of infections for 45 days. In all, the neighbourhood had counted 26 cases of the virus during the epidemic, the first one was identified in January.

Asked if her committee had relaxed its management since the lockdown ended, Feng was categoric in her response.

“Not at all!”, she said. “Our residents are extremely united, extremely hardworking and are fighting side by side with us. They listen to all our arrangements.”

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The committees’ work during the outbreak extended to keeping detailed records of residents’ health, carrying out daily body temperature checks and making sure any slight discomfort, such as a cough or headache, is reported.

They also played a key role in keeping a 24-hour watch on people trying to enter or leave their compounds, and assigning someone to accompany family members of deceased coronavirus victims on visits to lay ashes at cemeteries.

Reuters reporters in Wuhan found that some compounds were more rigorously managed than others.

Many residents also said they were happy to comply with the prolonged oversight, given that it had proven effective in controlling the spread of the virus. Still, some indicated they were growing weary of the intrusion.

“What I really want to say is, the lifting of the lockdown is not a true one, neighbourhoods are still imposing curbs, restricting people from going out,” one resident posted on Weibo on April 13.

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Rising worries about asymptomatic cases and the possibility of a second wave of infections mean that the residential committees may maintain their vigilance for a while longer.

Peng Jing, who runs the residential committee in the Shuianxingcheng neighbourhood, said it had immediately sprung into action after discovering an asymptomatic case on April 11, which prompted them to send the patient’s mother quickly to a quarantine centre and notify the area’s 11,000 residents.

“We believe our government will notify us first thing when we can end the sealing off of the neighbourhoods,” she said on Wednesday during a small government-organised group interview.


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