It is an image that captures the chilling reality of the coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan: a grey-haired man wearing a face mask lies dead on the pavement, a plastic shopping bag in one hand, as police and medical staff in full protective suits and masks prepare to take him away.
On what would typically be a crowded street in Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million people under quarantine, there are only a few passersby – but they dare not go near him.
Journalists from Agence France-Presse saw the body on Thursday morning, not long before a vehicle arrived carrying emergency workers. AFP could not determine how the man, who appeared to be aged in his 60s, had died.
But the reaction of the police and medical staff in hazmat suits, as well as some of the bystanders, highlighted the fear pervading the city.
AFP contacted police and local health officials afterwards but could not get details on his case.
The man lay straight on his back in front of a closed furniture shop. Medical staff in blue overalls gently shrouded his body with a blue blanket. The ambulance left, and police stacked supermarket cardboard boxes to hide the scene.
A woman standing near the man said she believed he had died from the virus.
“It’s terrible,” she said. “These days many people have died.”
Wuhan is the epicentre of the outbreak of the new coronavirus, which is believed to have been transmitted from wild animals to humans at a city market .
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 of Wuhan, blocking off roads out of the city and banning flights, in a bid to stop the virus spreading. Countries including the UK, US, France, Japana and South Korea have evacuated citizens from the city.
Those who are trapped are enduring a tormenting wait for the lockdown to end, for a cure to be found, or even just for check-ups at overwhelmed hospitals.
The dead man on the street on Thursday lay one block from the Wuhan Number Six Hospital, one of the main medical centres 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.
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 away the man. The body was zipped into a yellow surgical bag, and carried into the van on a stretcher.
Staff immediately began to clean the ground as the van drove away, disinfecting the streets where the body had lain.