While being watched, grieving the death of a daughter in Wuhan

She looks away and holds her head with a depressed expression

"The suffering is perpetual. It's challenging to heal at all.  

Yang Min's only child, Yuxi, passed away three years ago. Midway through January 2020, in Wuhan, China—the Chinese city where the first coronavirus cases were discovered—a 24-year-old woman with breast cancer was admitted to the hospital.

The first area in China and the entire world to be sealed off in order to halt the spread of Covid was Wuhan. In the early hours of January 23, the announcement arrived, sending people running into the night in fear and uncertainty.

China's zero-Covid playbook would be heavily reliant on that 76-day long city-wide lockdown. Recently, the nation announced that the current wave, which was sparked by a hasty reopening, is coming to an end and that the policy has since been abandoned.

While much of China advances, Ms. Yang cannot.

She claims that she won't stop looking for "justice" for her daughter until she does. She thinks Yuxi would still be alive if the government had forewarned the populace at the start of the pandemic.

In the year 2020, Yuxi was being treated in a hospital as Wuhan prepared for the Chinese New Year holiday with big family dinners, throngs of shoppers, and the city decked out in festive red as is customary during the Spring Festival.

According to Ms. Yang in an interview with a book author, the family's holiday spirit was unaffected by Yuxi's illness because they were confident she would recover. What Ms. Yang was unaware of was the fact that a brand-new virus was spreading throughout the city's hospitals.

The Huanan Seafood Market was thought to be a possible source of reports of a mysterious illness that surfaced in December 2019. People were reassured by authorities that there was "no definite evidence" of transmission from person to person.

Medical staff members wearing protective clothing to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in the city, arrive with a patient at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on January 25, 2020.
During the initial stages of the pandemic in 2020, hospitals in Wuhan were overburdened.

Then, cases started to increase, and by January 19, when Yuxi started to feel feverish, Wuhan had tallied nearly 200 cases. Doctors warned Ms. Yang that Yuxi would not survive if her fever did not go down on January 23, when the government ordered the city of 11 million people to be shut down.

Yuxi continued to cough for several days after that. She struggled to breathe and vomited blood. Ms. Yang, who cared for her day and night, contracted the disease as well.

Yuxi spent five days in the ICU before passing away on her own on February 6. It took two weeks to find out about Ms. Yang, who had been battling the virus in a secluded ward.

Ms. Yang told renowned author Murong Xuecun about these incidents, and he or she later included their accounts in the book Deadly Quiet City: Stories from Wuhan, Covid Ground Zero.

Ms. Yang says it would be too painful to talk about when she speaks to the BBC, but she instead focuses on her Yuxi and how life has changed since she passed away.

"My daughter wasn't particularly special, but she was my daughter, and I miss her. Mothers do that, she cries, "that's what mothers do.

She shared characteristics with other kids. She was occasionally mischievous, occasionally didn't listen to me, and occasionally we fought.

Doctors and healthcare professionals in Wuhan had suspicions, even though Ms. Yang was unaware of the virus at the time.

In order to protect his identity, Mr. Chen's name has been changed. He was employed at a community health center when the outbreak started.

Long before Dr. Li Wenliang, the 34-year-old whistleblower who passed away from the illness, was reprimanded by authorities for "spreading rumors," he had been working at the company for more than ten years and had heard about a new virus from coworkers.

Mr. Chen claimed that they were only aware of the coronavirus's identity. He says, "We were all afraid because we had no idea.". "When I stop to think about it, it was unbelievable. Nobody could have anticipated the outcome as it did.

File photo of the Qingming Festival in Wuhan in 2020
On the first tomb-sweeping day after the pandemic, Louise was astounded by the sheer number of mourners.

Beijing spun the Wuhan lockdown as a success, but the number of fatalities in the weeks preceding the lockdown is still unknown.

Before the cases started to drop, Louise, a tech worker in her late 20s who stayed in Wuhan with her partner during the lockdown, recalls that it was frightening: "There were videos showing the bodies on the ground in the hospitals and our food was almost gone. We believed we were being abandoned.

She didn't realize how badly the virus had affected the city until early April, on tomb sweeping day, when Chinese pay their respects to the deceased by circling them in white paper.

Chrysanthemums, the preferred flower for mourners, were all sold out and there were white circles everywhere.

Louise says, "No one I knew had passed away from the virus, but I was shocked by the scene.

Three years ago, Ms. Yang was among those wailing. She claims that some of her pain and fear were partially alleviated this year when China reopened to a wave of infections. This time, Ms. Yang's 80-year-old mother-in-law caught the infection.

She admits, "I was concerned that she might pass away at any time. "I did everything I regretted not doing three years ago, everything I didn't know then but know now, and everything I didn't do. If I was careless with anything, I was worried that I would endanger her. Every hour, I measured her blood's oxygen content.

Ms. Yang says she caught Covid once more and wasn't afraid for her own safety.

"Death means little after what we had gone through. I don't want to go through the pain of losing family again. I'd give my life to save my mother-in-law if I could.

The Chinese New Year began in late January, and her mother-in-law made a full recovery.

Hubu Alley decorated with red lanterns during the Spring Festival holiday on January 24, 2023 in Wuhan
The Chinese New Year wasn't properly observed by Ms. Yang.

Ms. Yang, however, wasn't in the mood to celebrate. Since speaking to the media about losing her daughter to Covid, she had been the subject of intense surveillance.

She has been engaging in street protests while also attempting to sue the government. She states that she needs "an explanation.".

China is a one-party state that does not accept demonstrations that oppose the ruling party.

A lot of foreign news outlets are prohibited from operating in the nation, and there is also strict censorship of the media and the internet. People who criticize the government to foreign media frequently experience retaliation, including warnings and even detention.

With the aid of technology, China has also developed a vast surveillance network that keeps track of movement and monitors data from mobile devices.

People are knocking on my door, and I get followed everywhere, claims Ms. Yang. Because I am concerned that my friends will be impacted if I attend gatherings, there is no Spring Festival atmosphere. I haven't been out very much.

People visit the homes of those whose relatives passed away in the previous year in Wuhan on the first day of the Chinese New Year, and they burn incense for the deceased.

She continues, recalling how she had brought two baskets of the flowers for Yuxi, "Chrysanthemums were being sold everywhere, especially on Chinese New Year's Eve.".

The end of the pandemic does not signal a return to normal life for Ms. Yang. Not least because she is now constantly being watched by a camera at her door.

I don't fear them, she declares. "I already lost the most valuable thing in my life. What else are they capable of taking from me?

To protect identities, all names have been changed with the exception of Yang Min.

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