As I read the written permission to leave the house, I’m again reminded of a holiday that happened not too long ago. Oh, the island of Koh Rong on the coast of Cambodia. The golden sand. Clear sea. Parties. US dollars. Good vibes. Why didn’t I stay there?
Unfortunately, I came back to China last week. My roomate arrived three days ago from Switzerland. Somehow it feels like it has been a month already. Maybe even a year. For sure, we lived one whole life inside the last few days. Long story short, we’re under quarantine. The whole country is enjoying the indoors. Too soon? Well, I’m there, living the pandemic.
Don’t we want to live?
Why did we came back while everyone is packing their stuff to catch the first plane out of the reddest country on Earh (North Korea, I see you there, don’t worry). First of all, I’d like to say neither of us is suicidal (I hope he’s not). The reasons for our return are numerous. It’s our established life here. Our work. The apartment we share. I’d love to learn Chinese. Money. The stubborn sense of don’t-panic-it’s-just-media-blowing-everything-out-of-proportions. And a bunch of other stuff.
When we came back a painful realization washed over us like we’re naive twelve year olds. It was worse than we thought. We ended up in home quarantine. And that big realization opened the doors to possibility that one actually knows what’s going on with the 2019-nCoV. Novel Coronavirus. Bat-snake-pangolin-animal virus pandemic. However you want to call the disease.
Now, I’d like to point out that for someone who loves to read and write, the whole idea didn’t sound too bad. Extended vacation, you say? 2-weeks of home quarantine? Where do I sign.
Well, I had to sign papers alright. A bunch. Everything we do now requires a signature.
Where are we?
I got to disappoint you on this one. We’re not in Wuhan, or Hubei, or anywhere near the virus outbreak. I’m sitting behind the desk in Yanta District, located in southern Xi’an. It’s the capital of Shaanxi province — more than six hundred miles away from the novel virus epicenter.
The city of around nine million has less than a hundred reported cases. The precise number is seventy. Statistically, that doesn’t sound that bad, does it?
Regular flu infected more people last month. HIV also did. The common cold killed more people this year. Traffic accidents. Choking on that Quaterpounder probably ended more lives than the 2019-nCoV in Xi’an.
Nevertheless, the city is under level one quarantine. The highest alarm sounded. War on the virus proclaimed in the news. Doctors made into mortars (seriously, they’re real heroes). Temperature checks at every step. Even when you’re not moving, they’ll ask you to report your bodily functions twice a day to your building headmaster. Canceled flights. Restriction of movement. Quarantine of unprecedented scale. The whole country is under lockdown. Extended holiday.
Can you imagine China without people? That’s exactly how it looks right now. No cars. Maybe three randoms souls roaming around. And guards. And doctors in white jumpsuits with face masks and goggles holding thermometer guns. Scary stuff. Scenes right out of Sci-fy movies. Zombie apocalypse. Contagion.
What can I do right now?
Well, I can go grocery shopping in a couple of days, if I get a special permission from the community office. It’s the only thing that’s open. Grocery shops. Supermarkets. And brave food deliveries for the bravest of people featuring lion-hearthed delivery boys. Everything else — lockdown.
The Hospital building Live Show
The hospital in Wuhan with 2300 new beds is already built. The strangest reality show took place last week. The whole country tuned in on the live feed of construction professionals building the facility in just under ten days. Here is a cool link where you can watch the whole thing built from grounds in sixty seconds. The place is constructed with one purpose in mind — to fight the novel virus. Impressive.
Wash your hands
How to fight the pandemic? The doctors say; “wash your hands.” It’s great when they give such advice. I mean, seriously, the thing put a billion people in quarantine. Canceled numerous flights. Global panic. WHO declared a Global Health Emergency. I’m under observation without any symptoms and without previous history of getting in contact with anyone infected with the virus and the best you could muster is ‘wash your hands’. Great. That’s exactly the assurance I needed. Ok, quirkinesses aside. Wash your hands and don’t touch your mouth, nose or eyes. Sounds simple. Follow it. Always. Wash. Your. Hands.
And face masks. It’s forbidden to leave the house without one.
Freedom of movement is _______? I have no idea anymore. Is it even that important? Most people cheer the government’s overreaction to the outbreak. Part of me does to, I’m glad they’re taking this stuff seriously. But for the love of God, if I don’t have any symptoms, and I wear the mask and latex gloves, please let me visit the nearest convenient market. It’s not like I’m super crazy to be outside in the cold fending off a viral outbreak. On the other hand, GO China! You’re doing a good job.
China did what China does best. Censorship. Red tape. Psst!
Li Wenliang was among the first to ring the alarm on the new virus in December of 2019.
He was silenced by the government and forced to sign the self-criticizing report. His crime; spreading false rumors.
The young doctor died from the virus itself five days after being diagnosed (not suspicious at all). He was only 34 and in what seems to be a great physical condition prior to being infected. He tried to ring the alarm on the disease and warn the world about the potential implications. He was sadly silenced by the government. And he was punished for his deeds. Rest in peace. Hero.
Another eight people were also punished for spreading the rumor about the novel virus.
Somehow, his testemony and his last social media posts reached public. China decided to step back in the attempt to censor people from speaking about the outbreak. That’s also a novelty. One of the reasons might be the bottom-up pressure from the people. Food for thought.
Li Wuhan is now considered a hero and the face of the fight against the outbreak.
Inner conflits and more questions
I’m conflicted. As a westerner, you might ask yourself about the ideas of freedom. Is it justified to put the whole country under quarantine? Does the end justify the means? The city of Wuhan and it’s 11 million inhabitants are totally isolated from the rest of the world and put under the microscope. The rest of the country is on the highest alert.
I understand China doesn’t give a rat’s ass about human rights, and most people will applaud it this time — even the hardline right-wing-state-opposing-extremists might find it cool. Most people are found of the idea. Even I am, somehow.
Quaratnine keeps the disease at bay.
Ambassador Dominic Barton in his testimony before the special committee on Canada-China relations was quoted saying; “That’s what I’m commending them, for locking a city of 11 million people to try to protect all of us from not getting infected. It’s a very worthy thing, and I commend them on that.”
Have the Chinese instituted the lockdown to protect the people? Is it just the government’s way of flexing its power over the local population? Are they trying to reassure the big business that everything will be fine? Is it a ferocious display of totalitarianism? What’s really going on? No one seems to know the answers.
Part of me is glad they took things seriously. And I applaud the Chinese resolve to fix this problem. But right now it seems like they’re going all Don Quixote against the thin air. They’re spraying the whole country with disinfectants, neighborhood by neighborhood. We get a notice each day about their targets. Close your windows— the loose translation of the warning reads — the following districts will be disinfected tonight.
And each day there is an extravagant number of new cases. Luckily, the reported death rate is not high.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if they let it spread as Swine flue did in 2009. Would it be the beginning of Stephen King’s The Stand? Total apocalypse? How would it be different than it is right now? How many people are actually being saved by these regulations?
Are Chinese doing what Spain couldn’t do a hundred years ago?
For now, there are way more questions than answers. And it’s probably going to stay that way.
What the future holds?
No one really knows what the future truly holds. The official holiday won’t be extended, but we’re all under quarantine. Conflicting information is getting out each day.
Life is supposed to slowly start pacing back to normal from the 10th of February. That’s tomorrow. It’s the last day of the official Lunar New Year holiday. The quarantine is instituted until further notice. The schools and kindergartens are closed until further notice. Bars and clubs won’t exactly buzz with people on the opening night. And we’re trying to do our jobs online. Most companies are trying to find a way to keep their employees busy somehow. It’s a mess. The official law states they’re supposed to pay the full wages under these circumstances. There is that. We’ll be back to work sooner than later.
Hopefully, all of it will soon be last week’s news.