China: Knowing victims of Coronavirus infection
This is the second exclusive ICN report from a Catholic – who lives in Wuhan and prefers to remain anonymous – giving a first-hand account of the situation in the city at the centre of the Coronovirus infection.
Four years ago a parishioner in Wuhan introduced me to Yan Xiaowen. At that time he lived in one of the simplest homes I have ever visited. The single room was a mere five metres long and four metres wide. It had one window and no heating. Cooking was done on a gas ring at one side of the room. Decoration was at a minimum. A small toilet at the end of a concrete corridor was shared with a number of other people who lived in similar rooms.
Within this small home Yan Xiaowen cared in a happy way for his two sons. Yan Cheng was born with cerebral palsy without ever having the ability to talk or to use his limbs. Yan Hongwei has autism. Their mother died 10 years ago. In this most humble setting Yan Xiaowen has lived the dedicated life of a father in a way that can hardly be expressed by words on a page. Faced with the challenges of poverty as he cared for his two children, he would never have expected that Yan Cheng’s name would be circulating on social media in China this week as well as featuring in news reports overseas. Unfortunately, the reason is linked with the coronavirus outbreak and the struggles of the country to cope with its consequences.
Having returned to their original town of Huajiahe to celebrate the lunar New Year, it came as complete surprise when Yan Xiaowen was quarantined due to showing symptoms of the coronavirus. Yan Hongwei was with him when he went to the clinic and joined him in quarantine. This meant that Yan Cheng was now on his own and unable to do anything for himself. Local authorities were notified about his situation and the need to provide support. Yan Cheng died on January 28th. A consequence of these developments is that the mayor and party secretary of Huajiahe have been removed from their jobs.
On his social media account Yan Xiaowen shares a poignant expression of hope addressed to his son as he writes: “My son, on this Earth your pain had no limits, but in heaven there is no hunger or thirst, there is no cold, there is no suffering, there is no pain, there is only love.”
For a family that received baptism just two years ago, these are insights that are worthy of an honoured place in the life of the Church.
These are the depths of experience within just one family that has been tossed about on the waves of uncertainty due to the arrival of the coronavirus in central China. The streets of Wuhan and surrounding cities are quiet but the havoc wrought within the hearts of many families strikes completely unannounced.
Today is the 13th day since public transport was suspended in Wuhan. Although the opportunity for transmission of the coronavirus would have decreased significantly since the introduction of these measures, we still wait for a decline in the number of new cases being reported. In the space of just seven days the number of cases has risen from 3,000 to over 20,000. While a much-publicised quick-build hospital has opened with 1,000 beds, its contribution in the face of such increasing numbers is being diluted on a daily basis.
Reports from two friends indicate that the hospitals are now full. This week a sports centre and two other facilities have been equipped with beds to accommodate several hundred patients. A number of hotels have been taken over to act as quarantine centres.
On Monday China’s stock market dropped by 8% and the event did not even get mentioned in the main evening news on television. Obviously other issues are getting priority.
A week ago. I did not know anybody who was personally affected by the coronavirus. The situation of Yan Xiaowen’s family has changed all of that. Another family that I know has two members who are in quarantine since Sunday, an 85-year-old grandfather and his son. Their large extended family is now faced with the anxiety of waiting for the possible emergence of symptoms. Needless to say, they have requested prayers.
Last week seems like a long time ago as more and more people are brought into a situation they seem powerless to avoid.
We continue to pray for those who have died, for those who have contracted the virus and their families, as well as for the many people who are trying to resolve this increasingly complex emergency. We pray in particular for Yan Cheng, who is now surely among the saints in heaven, and for his grieving father and brother. They have brought so much with them to enrich the life of the Church.