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China Has Built Over 20 Mass Quarantine Centers For Coronavirus Patients In Wuhan


All right - over to China now, which has built more than 20 mass quarantine centers for non-critical coronavirus patients in Wuhan. That is the city at the epicenter of the outbreak. Wuhan's new Communist Party chief has vowed to find every remaining virus patient and put them in quarantine. NPR's Emily Feng reports from Beijing.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: China calls the quarantine centers fan tsung yuen (ph), or cabin hospital. They're modeled after military-style barrack housing, and they're not glamorous - rows of beds in repurposed stadiums and exhibition centers staffed by a handful of nurses and doctors. But for many of those now quarantined in these centers, such as Wuhan resident Tsuen Da Syo (ph), getting any sort of medical care is a welcome change. I reached him and the others in the story by phone.

TSUEN DA SYO: (Through interpreter) I think it's pretty nice here. There are doctors. It's better than being isolated in a hotel.

KELLY: Tsuen's family is separated into various tiers of health care. His elderly parents and wife who have the virus are recovering in a hospital. His young children are in separate isolation wards.

DA SYO: (Through interpreter) There are TV's here, but no one watches them. I spend all my time video chatting or calling my family because they're all across the city.

KELLY: NPR has reported on how hospitals in Wuhan have been so overloaded, they've had to turn away non-coronavirus cases, no matter how severe. So Wuhan's solution was to requisition any large public space for quarantine centers, where people with lighter symptoms can be separated from the rest of the population. Residents say it's not ideal, but they've accepted their fate.

PUNG SIN YE: (Through interpreter) I'm not bored because I have to do my online courses now that school is canceled.

FENG: Pung Sin Ye (ph) is one of them. He's a senior in high school. He spends about 10 hours a day listening to livestreams from his teachers. Elderly patients in his makeshift treatment center, especially the women, sing karaoke and dance.

YE: (Through interpreter) Everyone's caring about each other. We chat with each other.

FENG: New cases of the virus across China have dramatically dropped over the last two weeks, and recovery rates are climbing. But critics of China's mass quarantine methods say they risk cross-contamination between healthy and infected patients.

WEI WEI: (Through interpreter) I was not confident at all about the place because I was put with people who also had not been screened.

FENG: When Wei Wei (ph) developed a fever, he was told to go to a mass quarantine center. He was assigned to a room with three other people while he waited for screening results. The next day, one of them tested positive for the virus.

WEI: (Through interpreter) I think it's still a governance and resource issue. There are just too many people and not enough medical staff to care for them all.

FENG: But Wei was lucky. He left quarantine for 18 days because his symptoms disappeared. But such mix-ups - putting healthy and infected people together - might happen again. Wuhan's freshly minted party chief is ordering one last all-out push to identify all new virus cases. Officials have gone door-to-door, checking up on anyone who reported symptoms or had close contact. Anyone suspected with the virus must be put in quarantine or medical observation.

LIN YEUNG: From my point of view, it's quite dangerous because that's increased the chance of cause infection.

FENG: Lin Yeung (ph) is an epidemiologist at Hong Kong University and currently based in Wuhan, where she's been tracking the outbreak.

YEUNG: There is lot of other viruses, right? It's the peak season for flu. You mix every, you know, different things together, and there are - some suspected cases could be the confirmed cases later. But - so before that, nobody knows, and you cannot mix them up.

FENG: But because entire families have been infected by the new coronavirus, some are forced to make tough choices even after quarantine. Twenty-six-year-old screenplay writer Wu Shan Ju is staying in a quarantine center now. She's almost recovered but decided to move to a hospital for more severe coronavirus cases because nurses recommended she care for her critically infected grandmother there.

WU SHAN JU: (Through interpreter) I haven't told my father yet. He didn't want me to go to the hospital, but I have to take care of my grandma.

FENG: Wu says she feels scared to go to the hospital and conflicted because there is no right choice.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF RHYE SONG, "ONE OF THOSE SUMMER DAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.