Hours after a state-imposed lockdown brought public transport in the Chinese city of Wuhan to a halt in late January, Wan Jiuxiong and his colleagues sprang into action.
Wan’s first assignment was to pick up a nurse from home and drive her to the Jinyintan Hospital, a key facility designated by the government to treat patients infected with the pneumonia-like illness.
Since emerging from Wuhan last month, the deadly virus has claimed at least 700 lives and sickened nearly 30,000 people, spreading from the city on the Yangzte River to the rest of China and as far as the United States and Europe.
Wan’s passenger left in a hurry, without saying “goodbye” or “thank you”, but Wan isn’t looking for thanks.
“In this time of need, we Wuhan people have to save ourselves. Everyone has got to do their own part,” he said.
In the midst of the contagious outbreak, Wan has not taken precautionary measures lightly.
When volunteering, he leaves home every morning with a bundle of facemasks, a bottle of medicinal alcohol and a pot of disinfectant. He changes his mask every two to three hours, and spends half an hour disinfecting his car after dropping off every health care worker.
“I’m not worried about getting infected myself, but I fear the health care workers I pick up will be cross-infected – they still need to save lives,” he said.
Lifeline of Wuhan
Wan is among hundreds of volunteers who have formed a lifeline for the residents of Wuhan, a sprawling metropolis of 11 million people.
After the suspension of all buses and subways when the city went under lockdown on January 23, the government deployed 6,000 taxis to help deliver supplies and transport patients without a fever to hospital. Those with a fever can only be transported by special quarantine vehicles dispatched by disease control authorities. But each residential community is only allocated three or four taxis, hardly enough for dense sites housing thousands of people.