In Shulan, a city in China’s northeast, the streets are eerily quiet, devoid of taxis and buses. Apartment complexes have been sealed off, confining residents inside. Teams of government workers go door to door rounding up sick people as part of what they call a “wartime” campaign.

Residents described the atmosphere as tense. Li Ping, who works at a real estate company in Shulan, population 600,000, stocked up on meat, eggs and noodles as she prepared for the lockdown.

“The government’s controls now are very strict,” she said. “As long as we obey and not go out, it will be all right.”

The latest outbreak is concentrated in Jilin, a northeastern province of 27 million people that sits near China’s borders with Russia and North Korea. Jilin has reported a small outbreak of about 130 cases and two deaths, but experts there have warned of the threat of a “big explosion.”

Officials have already mobilized the police and Communist Party groups to make sure residents comply with the lockdown. Tens of thousands of people are being tested for the virus and thousands rounded up into hospitals for quarantine. The central government has signaled its displeasure about the outbreak, dismissing five local officials and sending top leaders to the province to conduct inspections.

The authorities have also imposed a lockdown on parts of Jilin City, a manufacturing base, bringing factories to a standstill and quieting streets. In some areas, residents are allowed to leave their homes only once every two days, and for a maximum of two hours, to shop for groceries. The strictest measures are probably affecting more than 200,000 people in the city.

“We are doing what is necessary to control and prevent the disease, and to isolate those who need to be isolated,” Song Jing, a government worker in Shulan who is helping to organize widespread testing for residents, said by telephone.

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Credit…Yan Linyun/Xinhua, via Associated Press

The outbreak points to the persistence of the virus in China despite the punishing restrictions imposed to contain it, including a 76-day lockdown in Wuhan, the central city where the virus first emerged in December. The coronavirus has killed at least 4,600 people in China, though that official count is considered an underestimate.

“The possibility of a second wave is clearly there,” said David Hui, the director of the Stanley Ho Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “China doesn’t want to take any chances.”

In China, the ruling Communist Party’s swift use of heavy-handed lockdown measures in Jilin also shows its resolve to declare victory in what China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has described as a “people’s war” against the virus.

A meeting of China’s national legislature begins in Beijing on Friday, and Mr. Xi appears eager to project strength in the face of the uncertainty posed by the pandemic.

“They want to articulate confidence, whether they have it or not,” said Steve Tsang, the director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “The key message is that China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party, has saved the country from Covid-19 while all these Western democratic countries failed.”

Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Tsang said the government’s reluctance to abandon sweeping lockdowns in favor of a more targeted approach pointed to the party’s limited options.

“The system is inflexible, and this is the only way they know how to contain it,” he said. “They are simply not willing to take any risks.”

Mr. Xi is under pressure to shore up the economy, which contracted in the first three months of this year for the first time since the 1970s, and which is still suffering amid the global drop in consumer spending.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 20, 2020

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

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      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.


The coronavirus outbreak in Jilin has unnerved the public in part because the authorities have struggled to trace its origins.

Officials have tied many cases in the northeast to Chinese nationals who had recently returned from Russia. But many of the recent cases involve people who had not traveled outside the country.

One of the first reported clusters in Jilin was traced to a 45-year-old woman in Shulan who washed clothes at a police bureau and had not been abroad recently. Around a dozen other cases were later linked to the woman. Elsewhere, officials found that a man in Jilin City infected with the coronavirus had attended a large wedding in early May, raising fears of a bigger outbreak.

Adding to the difficulties, Chinese medical experts say the virus is displaying slightly different characteristics in Jilin, as well as in other northeastern provinces where cases have recently appeared, including Heilongjiang.

Patients are taking longer than the typical one to two weeks to show symptoms of the illness after being infected, an expert with the National Health Commission, Qiu Haibo, told the state-run broadcaster this week, and they are carrying the virus for a longer period of time.

Chen Ying, a public health researcher at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, said officials were reacting forcefully in the northeast because the experience in Wuhan had demonstrated the importance of early, stringent action.

“If we had this chance in Wuhan, we would have taken similar measures,” he said. “The consequences will be very big if this is not controlled.”

Albee Zhang contributed research.