Tian Bing has spent six straight nights curled up in the back of his white sedan, stranded at an expressway service station in eastern Jiangsu province in China because of a blockade aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

On Sunday, the 35-year-old completed a near-2,000 km (1,243 mile) drive from his hometown to Taixing, a city of about 1 million people in Jiangsu, to return to work. But policemen guarding the highway exit to the city, where he runs a home appliances repair business, told him to turn back.

The reason: Tian is not considered a local resident under China’s Byzantine hukou system, barring him from entry due to the city’s recent decision to keep out outsiders.

“I think I’ve done everything I can do,” he said. Before setting off on the near two-day drive, Tian got a health certificate showing he was virus-free and called ahead to the city officials, who assured Tian he would face no problems.

Tian subsists on biscuits and instant noodles, with most restaurants at the service station shut down. He sleeps with a seat cushion as his pillow, huddled in the back with the engine shut off on fear that the exhaust might poison him in his sleep.

He is not the only one stuck in such a rest stop limbo. Posts on China’s social media platforms show several people trapped in unfamiliar places, under quarantine or abandoned in no man’s land amid travel and entry restrictions that sprang up throughout the country.

The police guarding the expressway exit to Taixing have said Tian can come in if officers in the compound of his rented home agree to pick him up. But Tian said the community officers refused because they don’t want to be responsible for anything that goes wrong.

“They (the officials) don’t care if you die on the highway because you have nowhere to stay,” Tian said at the service station near another city about 90km from Taixing.

Tian is not ready to give up, however. He calls the city government every day, even though his wife is pleading with him to go someplace else that will accept him, even if under quarantine.

“I want to get off this expressway to deal with my business as soon as possible,” Tian said. “My seven employees need to eat and pay their rent too; that’s absolutely my responsibility.”

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