Confronting image shows body lying in the street in coronavirus ground zero

·3-min read

WARNING - DISTRESSING CONTENT: A grey-haired man wearing a face mask has been pictured lying dead on the pavement in ground zero of China's coronavirus epidemic.

On what would typically be a crowded street in Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million under quarantine, only a few passersbys can be seen in images - and they dare not go near him.

AFP journalists saw the body on Thursday morning, not long before an emergency vehicle arrived carrying police and medical staff in full-body protective suits.

The man is seen lying flat on his back in front of a closed furniture store with a plastic shopping bag in one hand as medical staff in blue overalls gently shroud his body with a blue blanket.

The dead man is seen lying on the ground in Wuhan. Source: AFP
A grey-haired man wearing a face mask has been pictured lying dead on the pavement in ground zero of China's coronavirus epidemic. Source: AFP

After the ambulance left, police stacked supermarket cardboard boxes to hide the scene.

AFP could not determine how the man, who appeared to be aged in his 60s, had died. AFP contacted police and local health officials afterwards but could not get details on his case.

But the reaction of the police and medical staff in hazmat suits, as well as some of the bystanders, highlighted the fear pervading the city.

A woman standing near the man, wearing pink pyjamas and a Mao cap, said she believed he had died from coronavirus.

"It's terrible," she said. "These days many people have died."

A team of forensic experts who examined him were immediately sprayed with disinfectant by colleagues after removing their hazardous material suits.

One man smoking near the scene was told sharply by police to put out his cigarette and don a face mask.

He quickly followed their orders.

In the two hours that AFP observed the scene, at least 15 ambulances passed by, attending other calls.

The masked man is seen lying on the ground on the nearly deserted residential street. Source: AFP
The masked man is seen lying on the ground on the nearly deserted residential street. Source: AFP

Finally, a white van with blacked-out windows arrived to take away the man.

The body was zipped into a yellow surgical bag, and carried into the van on a stretcher.

Staff immediately began to clean the ground as the van drove away, disinfecting the streets where the body had lain.

Wuhan residents are believed to have caught the new virus from wild animals at a city market.

The new coronavirus strain, which emerged late last year, has claimed at least 213 lives and infected thousands in China, with at least 159 deaths in Wuhan alone.

After cases were confirmed in 22 other countries, including Australian, the World Health Organisation declared the crisis a global health emergency.

Authorities have imposed an unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan, blocking off roads out of the city and banning flights, in a bid to stop the virus spreading.

Those who are trapped are enduring a tormenting wait for the lockdown to end, for a cure to be found, or even just for check-ups at overwhelmed hospitals.

Police and medics in protective suits dealt with the dead body in Wuhan. Source: AFP
Police and medics in protective suits dealt with the dead body in Wuhan. Source: AFP

Sick people BYO chairs to hospital

AFP reporters in Wuhan have seen long queues at hospitals, with some patients saying they had waited for two days to see a doctor.

Many brought their own chairs for the wait.

With most traffic banned, people who venture outside have to walk or bike everywhere in the huge city.

The dead man on the street on Thursday lay one block from the Wuhan Number Six Hospital, one of the main medical centres for treating those with virus symptoms.

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