A gray-haired man wearing a face mask lies dead on the pavement at ground zero of China's virus epidemic, a plastic shopping bag in one hand.
On what would typically be a crowded street in Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million under quarantine, there are only a few passersby and they dare not go near him.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalists saw the body Thursday morning, not long before an emergency vehicle arrived carrying police and medical staff in full-body protective suits.
The man lay flat on his back in front of a closed furniture store. Medical staff in blue overalls gently shrouded his body with a blue blanket.
The ambulance left, and police stacked cardboard boxes to hide the scene.
AFP could not determine how the elderly man, who appeared to be in his 60s, had died. AFP contacted police and local health officials afterward but could not get any details about the case.
The reaction of the police and medical staff in hazmat suits, as well as some of the bystanders, highlighted the fear prevailing in the city.
A woman standing near the man, wearing pink pajamas and a Mao cap, said she believed he had died from the virus. "It's terrible," she said. "Too many people are dying these days."
Wuhan is the epicenter of the outbreak of the new coronavirus, which originated at an outdoor market where the virus was transmitted from a wild animal to a person.
The virus, which emerged late last year, has claimed at least 213 lives and infected thousands in China, with at least 159 deaths in Wuhan alone.
With the virus spreading to other countries, the World Health Organization has declared the crisis a global health emergency.
Authorities have imposed an unprecedented lockdown in Wuhan, blocking off routes to other cities and banning flights, in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.
Those who are trapped are enduring a tormenting wait for the lockdown to end, for a cure to be found, or even just for checkups at overcrowded hospitals.
AFP reporters in Wuhan have seen long queues at hospitals, with some patients saying they had been standing in a queue for two days to see a doctor. Many brought their own chairs for the wait.
Due to the closure of roads, people are forced to walk or travel on a bike everywhere in the huge city.
The dead man on the street Thursday lay one block from the Wuhan Number Six Hospital, one of the main medical centers for treating those with virus symptoms.
A team of forensic experts who examined him were immediately sprayed with disinfectant by colleagues after removing their hazardous material suits.
One man smoking near the scene was told sharply by police to put out his cigarette and put on a face mask. He quickly followed their orders.
In the two hours that AFP observed the scene, at least 15 ambulances passed by, attending other calls.
Finally, a white van with blacked-out windows arrived to take the man away. The body was zipped into a yellow surgical bag, and carried into the van on a stretcher.
The staff cleaned the ground immediately as the van drove away, disinfecting the streets where the body was.
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