An ambulance drives on the street of Xiaogan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 15, 2020. Xiaogan witnessed a snowfall on Saturday as people around the city still fight in the battle against the novel coronavirus. (Xinhua/Hu Huhu)
An ambulance drives on the street of Xiaogan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 15, 2020. Xiaogan witnessed a snowfall on Saturday as people around the city still fight in the battle against the novel coronavirus. (Xinhua/Hu Huhu)

In the morning, villager Zhu Guoxin puts on a mask, braces against the wind and steps out of Xinhe Village for the first time in 16 days since it was sealed off and put under quarantine.

With a registered population of 2,887, Xinhe in the city of Shaoxing was the first village in east China’s Zhejiang Province to announce isolation for medical observation amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In mid-January, Zhu came to know the epidemic through the news on tv. “My neighboring family was doing business in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. I wondered whether or not to ask about their situation,” Zhu recalled.

Nearly half of villagers in Xinhe were doing business in other places. One month ago, many returned to their hometown for the Spring Festival celebrations. Few villagers realized the imminent danger.

The deteriorated situation in Wuhan alerted Hu Lizhao, director of the subdistrict office where Xinhe Village is located. “The subdistrict started to comb people returning from Wuhan since Jan. 21. Among 341 people from the city, 96 lived in Xinhe Village,” Hu said.

On the night of Jan. 23, the first “bomb” exploded. An ambulance rushed to Xinhe and dashed out of the village, carrying a woman with a fever.

“The woman came from Wuhan. She called me that day and said she had a fever. I immediately informed the local disease control and prevention center,” said Zhou Jicheng, director of the villagers committee.

The next day, the woman was confirmed to be infected with the novel coronavirus, which was the first confirmed case in Yuecheng District, which administers Xinhe Village.

In the next two to three days, the second, third and fourth confirmed cases were reported in the village. A dozen cadres made a difficult decision to lock down the whole village for medical observation. The plan was approved by the municipal authorities.

As the first ray of sunshine reached Xinhe Village on Jan. 26, each household received a notice, which declared the whole village would be in quarantine and asked residents to stay at home.

Soon, tents and prefabricated houses were transported here. The village set up seven checkpoints on roads leading out of the village. A team, including village cadres and ordinary residents, would patrol the village every half an hour.

How to quell the fears and concerns of villagers was another uphill task.

When villager Tao Qilong got up at 7 a.m. every morning, he would receive two bags of vegetables in front of his home. “If you told the village cadres one day in advance what food your family needed, it would be delivered at your doorstep the next day,” Tao said.

Zhu Ping, a female cadre of the village, had to keep abreast of new knowledge about the disease to better answer questions raised by villagers. Every day, she received over 100 phone calls.

“People had many concerns about new confirmed cases and questions regarding infection symptoms and incubation period,” Zhu said. “I would give clear answers because the best way to comfort them is to tell the truth.”

Chinese health authorities said the overall confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection on the Chinese mainland had reached 74,185 by the end of Tuesday, and 2,004 people had died of the disease.

A total of 14,376 people had been discharged from hospital after recovery.

Thanks to joint efforts, Xinhe Village was released from quarantine on Feb. 12 after 16 days in lockdown, and no more confirmed cases have been reported since the quarantine.

There are still three checkpoints in the village, each with three volunteers wearing masks and holding thermometers to take the temperature of people coming in and out.

When Zhu steps out of the village to go shopping, he looks up into the sky. “I hope the epidemic will end as soon as possible, and we can get our lives back to normal,” he said. Enditem

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