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How do you feed 50 million people held in quarantine?

PortandTerminal.com, February 1, 2020

Despite the lockdown, it appears that there are no major food shortages in Wuhan. Supplies are there for those brave enough to go outside to get them.

BEIJING – As the official number of coronavirus cases today passed the 12,000 mark, the Chinese government desperately continues its fight to stop the virus from spreading further.

At least eleven million people in Wuhan were put under quarantine on January 23 after the authorities decided to seal off the entire city. To keep people at home and reduce chances for infection, subway and bus services are shut down and private vehicle use is banned in downtown areas.

The order was later expanded to the entire Hubei province, affecting nearly 50 million people. Hubei province is the largest red circle in the map below with 7,153 cases of coronavirus and 249 deaths.

Map showing the incidence of coronavirus cases as of Feb. 1, 2020
Source: 2019-nCoV Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE (Feb. 1, 2020)

Few governments could attempt such drastic restrictions on a population bigger than South Korea’s or Australia’s. They are made possible by the ruling Communist Party’s extensive controls on society and experience combating the 2002-03 SARS epidemic.

How are all those people in quarantine being fed? What are the logistics of supplying them? Is there enough food?

Despite the lockdown, it appears that there are no major food shortages in Wuhan. Supplies are there for those brave enough to go outside to get them. Yesterday, the world was horrified to see the photo below of an elderly man lying dead in the street in Wuhan, a plastic bag in hand, face mask on. 

An elderly man lying dead in the street in Wuhan, a plastic bag in hand, face mask on.

The streets are eerily quiet in Wuhan with most people are staying put at home, venturing out only to do supermarket runs. “For the healthy, it’s like what you call a ‘snow day,’ staying inside,” said a Wuhan University professor who asked not to be identified further for fear of retribution. 

Video credit: Euro News

The China Global Television Network (CGTN) has reported that in Wuhan the farmer’s markets have been shut and only chain stores are still open. Supermarkets only open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — a seven-hour operation compared to over 12 hours during regular days.

China has told farmers to step up vegetable production, opened roads for delivery trucks and is punishing those trying to profit in order to keep feeding residents of the locked-down city of Wuhan.

Please do not panic, do not hoard, so as not to cause waste,

Chinese Government Announcement

Some trucks are allowed to leave the 17 locked-down cities to collect food. Photos in state media show them lined up at checkpoints, their drivers wearing face masks. Police, shrouded in white protective suits, examine the drivers for the virus’s telltale fever. Those without passes are turned back.

 worker in a hazardous materials suit takes the temperature of a truck driver at a checkpoint in Huaibei in central China's Anhui Province, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.
A worker in a hazardous materials suit takes the temperature of a truck driver at a checkpoint in Huaibei in central China’s Anhui Province, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

China’s largest food and agricultural firm COFCO Group and China Grain Reserves Corporation (Sinograin) Group have stepped up supplies of rice, meat and cooking oil to Hubei province, state media reported on Wednesday.

The government of Hubei province, where all the quarantined cities are located, has promised adequate supplies of vegetables, rice, meat and medical supplies.

It said authorities were working with retailers to bring food from as far away as Yunnan province in the southwest and Hainan island in the South China Sea. A crackdown on hoarding and price-gouging by merchants was announced after food costs spiked.

 workers unload a shipment of protective suits from a cargo plane at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province.
In this Jan. 30, 2020 photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, workers unload a shipment of protective suits from a cargo plane at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province. Complicated logistics are part of a daily flow of food and other goods authorities say is sustaining Wuhan and surrounding cities with a total of 50 million people. Most are blocked from leaving in the most sweeping disease-control measures ever imposed. (Cheng Min/Xinhua via AP)

Shouguang, the country’s biggest vegetable production base, in the eastern Shandong province, has been asked to deliver 600 tons of fresh vegetables to Wuhan every day in the next 10 to 15 days, said an official in Sunjiaji, one of Shouguang’s villages.

Sunjiaji, whose main crop is cucumbers, was tasked with sending 60 tons in less than seven hours.

Early last week residents in Wuhan were saying that there has yet to be an acute shortage of food, although shelves are cleared quickly when goods arrive.

“In the morning there are vegetables in supermarkets but the shelves are cleared quickly as a lot of people buy large amounts,” one resident said, describing stores as “war zones”. “You buy whatever’s left on the shelf because that will be gone too.”

Wushang Group, the largest local supermarket in Wuhan with nearly 30 stores, said its biggest challenge was a lack of staff and almost all company employees had become delivery personnel, opting to use their private cars to transport goods Reuters reported on Thursday.

Wuhan’s largest wholesale grocery outlet, the Baishazhou Agricultural Products Market, supplies supermarkets and big restaurants in neighbouring cities in Hubei province, such as Huangshi and Jiujiang, but is seeing fewer customers due to the restrictions.

“We have plenty of vegetables,” said Yuan, an employee in the market’s vegetable department. “But a lot are going rotten.”

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