The outbreak, and China’s sweeping efforts to contain it, has affected just about all of China’s 1.4 billion people. Even the rich and the powerful have to follow quarantine rules, which often means staying home.
But the most vulnerable — the poor, the disabled, the very old and the very young — have been hit hardest. The coronavirus is exposing the breadth of China’s wealth gap and the holes in its social safety net.
China has expanded medical coverage and made poverty eradication a top priority. Yet it still lags behind some other emerging economies, let alone the world’s richest countries, in public spending on education, health care and social assistance. Social spending accounted for 8 percent of China’s economic output in 2016, compared with an average of 22 percent for nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the global club of developed countries.
In Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak, the government made no announcements about the epidemic in sign language, said Cui Jing, an organizer for a group supporting deaf people in the city. On Jan. 23, the day the city was locked down, some deaf residents didn’t find out about it until they had trouble taking public transportation, Ms. Cui said.
The stories recounted in Chinese media extend beyond Wuhan. A 16-year-old with cerebral palsy in a village in Hubei Province, where Wuhan is the capital, starved to death days after his father was taken to a hospital. A 6-year-old boy was found in an apartment in Shiyan, also in Hubei, alone with the body of his grandfather; he told community workers that he hadn’t gone out to ask for help because his grandfather told him the virus was outside.
Outside Hubei, in Henan Province, state media reported that a ninth-grade girl attempted suicide after her school shut down and she couldn’t take online classes, because her family had to share a single mobile phone.
Reporting and research were contributed by Li Yuan, Ben Dooley, Alexandra Stevenson and Carlos Tejada.