These days, Chloe Chang, a Taiwanese woman stranded at the center of China’s coronavirus outbreak, says she wakes up every half-hour during the night. Sometimes she breaks down in tears.
She and her family are effectively trapped in her grandmother’s apartment building, where a man recently died from the virus. Workers in hazmat suits haunt the surrounding streets, and the neighborhood has a strong police presence. There are shortages of food and other essentials throughout Yichang, the Hubei Province city of more than four million where they have been in limbo for weeks.
“No household can go out at this time,” said Ms. Chang, a 26-year-old industrial artist. She said she feared that even a trip for groceries would increase her chances of contracting the virus.
“My child has eaten nine meals of plain noodles in the past three days,” she said of her 2-year-old son.
Ms. Chang and her family thought they were on the verge of escaping Yichang earlier this month, but the bus taking them to the airport was abruptly turned around.
The Coronavirus Outbreak
What do you need to know? Start here.
Updated Feb. 10, 2020
What is a Coronavirus? It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
How contagious is the virus? According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
How worried should I be? While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
Who is working to contain the virus? World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
What if I’m traveling? The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
How do I keep myself and others safe? Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
All she can do now is wait — and hope.
“The government of Taiwan surely will come to our rescue,” her husband, Calvin Fan, who is from Beijing, has reassured her. But the chartered flight they have eagerly awaited to evacuate them has yet to materialize.
“Neither side wants us,” Ms. Chang said. “We’ve given up. Now we are refugees.”
Taiwan and China each say the other is the reason that she and other Taiwan citizens are unable to leave Hubei, a province under lockdown, where hundreds have died from the coronavirus and tens of thousands have been infected.
Ms. Chang and hundreds of other Taiwanese people in Hubei had hoped to go home via chartered jet. But last month, after the first plane carrying evacuees landed in Taiwan with an infected passenger onboard, a backlash ensued on the self-governing island, which China claims as part of its territory.
Some said Taiwan would not be able to handle an outbreak if more infected people arrived. Others said Taiwan should not help to evacuate mainland Chinese spouses of Taiwan residents.
Decades of tensions between the two governments have come to a head over the outbreak, and people like Ms. Chang and her husband — both of who arrived in China last month to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday with family — have become pawns in a complicated and dangerous game of political chess.
Ms. Chang said she was told by Chinese officials that she could return to Taiwan on a second chartered flight, scheduled for Feb. 5. That day, her family boarded a bus bound for the airport in Wuhan, the provincial capital, where the coronavirus first emerged.
But just as the bus was about to leave, she said, a Chinese official hopped on and announced that the flight would not take off, saying: “Taiwan won’t let you go back.”
“I was really devastated, ” Ms. Chang said.
Taiwan had a different explanation. According to officials there, reports in Chinese state media that said a flight was scheduled to leave were untrue — the two sides had never discussed it.
Both governments, and their proxies, have continued to point fingers while Ms. Chang and her compatriots languish in Hubei.
“Taiwan authorities have repeatedly delayed the schedule,” Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, said last week. “Let the Taiwan compatriots return home as soon as possible, and stop making up all manner of excuses and rationale to block them from returning.”
Chen Shih-Chung, Taiwan’s minister of health and welfare, said on Friday that “China still uses all excuses to delay the evacuation, and refuses our plans and suggestions.”
Fears of the virus — and, perhaps, anti-China sentiment — have led Taiwan to escalate preventive measures in recent days.
On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center announced that children who have mainland citizenship but a Taiwanese parent would not be allowed to enter Taiwan for the time being if they were arriving from mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau.
Confined to her grandmother’s home for so long, Ms. Chang has turned to her art as an outlet for the helplessness and resentment she feels.
In a satirical cartoon she recently sketched, she portrayed the administration of Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president, as deliberately delaying the evacuation.