Where is Wuhan?

Wuhan lies in what is known as Central China, where it is the capital of Hubei province. The city holds a strategic location at the confluence of the Yangtze River and its largest tributary, the Han River.

Given its position, Wuhan has become known as a thoroughfare for shipping and other transportation. American observers have compared it to Chicago, another major city that sits near the center of large nation.

The city is located 430 miles west of Shanghai and 650 miles south of Beijing.

Who lives there?

With a population of more than 11 million, Wuhan is considerably larger than New York City. However, it is considered only a tier-two city by Chinese standards: It is the seventh-most populous city in China when ranked by population of the urban area.

An industrial city, Wuhan has a significant number of migrant workers, some of whom work in the automobile and steel industries. A large number of students also live in the city, which houses the respected Wuhan University.

On Jan. 23, China enacted travel bans for the central Chinese city of Wuhan in an effort to contain a coronavirus outbreak. (The Washington Post)

Why is Wuhan on lockdown?

The city has been placed on lockdown after the spread of a pneumonia-like illness known as a coronavirus. Authorities have placed travel restrictions on the city and the surrounding municipalities to stop the spread of the virus.

Authorities believe that the virus originated in a Wuhan food market that sold exotic animals for human consumption. These “wet markets” sell a wide variety of live animals, ranging from hedgehogs to crocodiles. Chinese authorities have tried to close them in the past due to health concerns.

What transport links does Wuhan have?

As a major city in a central location, Wuhan is well-connected. The city’s main air hub — Wuhan Tianhe International Airport — has flights to New York and San Francisco, as well as London, Tokyo, Moscow and many other international cities, and Wuhan is connected by high-speed rail to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chengdu.

On Thursday, half the airport’s scheduled flights were canceled. The city also shut down its three main railway stations, 13 bus stations, the entire subway network, almost all city bus lines and 251 ferry sailings on the Yangtze River. Major highways out of the city have also been blocked to outgoing traffic.

Why are so many people traveling at the moment?

Friday marks the official beginning of China’s annual Lunar New Year holiday. The event is celebrated in Wuhan with fairs at temples and fireworks displays, but it is also a time when millions of Chinese all across the country travel to be with their families.

In a large city like Wuhan, the population can shrink during the Lunar New Year, as migrant workers travel for a rare break from their day-to-day life. It is unclear how many people’s travel plans will be affected, but an online post from Wuhan Railway said that 300,000 people traveled by train out of Wuhan on Wednesday; that post was quickly deleted.

A deadly coronavirus has sickened more than 4,565 in China as officials there fear a broad quarantine isn't enough to stem the virus. (The Washington Post)

What else is Wuhan known for?

The city has a long and illustrious history, dating back thousands of years. Wuhan is close to an important archaeological site known as Panlongcheng, which dates to the Shang dynasty between 1600 and 1046 B.C.

In 1911, the booming town was the scene of what became known as the Wuchang Uprising, an event that started as popular unrest about a railway crisis but eventually escalated and led to a revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty.

The city was briefly proclaimed China’s capital in 1927 and again, provisionally, during the second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Communist leader Mao Zedong swam in the Yangtze River there in 1966, aiming to show he was still a strong leader.

In more recent years, the city has become a symbol of capitalism, with international automakers such as Honda and General Motors building cars there. The city is also a center for Hubei cuisine; Wuhan-style food in particular is notable for noodle dishes and dry pots.

What other areas are on lockdown?

The neighboring city of Huanggang, which has a population of roughly 6 million, said it would join Wuhan’s quarantine from midnight on Thursday. The nearby city of Ezhou, home to 1 million people, has also shut down its railway stations.

In total, authorities have moved to stop about 25 million people in Wuhan and surrounding areas — more people than in the entire state of Florida.