Eight Weeks On……
Wuhan – a city we almost moved to once. A city I wrote about in this blog post, that then, was a city few outside of China had ever heard of.
Now the infamous city is a household name right around the globe, sadly for all the wrong reasons.
The official epicentre of the Coronavirus, over 2500 people have died in Wuhan, although that figure is said to be as high as 40,000 by some, who claim China has covered up the number of covid-19 deaths.
This weekend saw Tomb Sweeping Day in China. An annual celebration of loved ones who’ve passed, locals go in their thousands to cemeteries to ‘tidy up’ graves, remove the weeds etc, and leave offerings of ‘cold’ food and money, among other things.
Instead, Wuhan locals were asked to stay away from cemeteries, in a bid to avoid further infections breaking out. Since the coronavirus outbreak, many have been unable to bury their loved ones. The grief right now, is understandably uncontrollable and raw.
In recognition of this, on Saturday, China held a national day of mourning. Chinese flags were flown at half-mast across the country, the public asked to observe three minutes of silence at ten am, during which air raid sirens blasted out across the country and car owners everywhere sounded their deafening horns in a show of gratitude.
While in many countries around the world, the crisis is at fever pitch, on Wednesday April 8th, Hubei Province – population of 60 million – including its capital Wuhan, will have its lock down lifted after more than two months of draconian measures, that are now, sadly, becoming all too familiar in other countries.
Measures which saw ‘door to door’ health checks, forcibly isolate every single resident, all food and medicines inspected, drones hovering above streets, and people scolded for not wearing face masks – are now being removed.
The last of temporary ‘panic built’ hospitals like this one, has been taken down and thousands of Chinese medical workers sent to help have been allowed to return home.
And, in a sign the city is coming back from the brink, factories are reopening, and operations are being restored step by step. Busses and trains are being disinfected ready for people to start commuting again.
Commercial flights will once again begin, excluding international routes and trips to and from the capital Beijing.
And in a sure-fire sign, things are slowly returning to normal, Wuhan’s famous hot dry noodles are making their way back to the streets amid the blooming cherry blossoms.
The week ending March 23rd China’s official figures showed only 233 new cases for the whole nation, most apparently from outside visitors.
But don’t be fooled, life right across the Middle Kingdom is still anything but normal.
Some cities have put even stricter rules in place with fears there will be a second wave of the virus.
In most cities, temperatures are still taken at all entry/exit ways to any public space.
The whereabouts of locals is easily monitored via high tech tracking systems and there are limits on the number of people from each house that can go shopping at any one time.
Walls, corridors, streets and buildings are continually sprayed down with disinfectant and masks are still worn by most.
An American friend Michael Michelini is currently in hotel quarantine in Shenyang in China’s far north, hoping to eventually be reunited with his Chinese wife and two kids after more than three months away.
His temperature is reported to a We Chat group of 60 other people also quarantined in the hotel, six times a day. He’s also had a visit from health workers in hazmat suits; the first time, swabbing his throat for coronavirus, the second, a blood test.
In my earlier post here, I mentioned my friend Jenna who was in lockdown with her husband Matt and two young girls in their apartment in Xi’an, Central China. Two weeks in to lockdown, the UK Embassy advised them to leave for their safety, which they did, waiting it out in Thailand for four weeks.
With the coast seemingly clear, they recently got the green light to return to their home in Xi’an.
Flying in via Shanghai, they landed in Xi’an at 5pm, where they were taken straight from the plane to a waiting bus, and their month’s whereabouts tracked on their phones amid a myriad of paperwork.
With new rules to be implemented any day, stipulating quarantine is to be in a hotel for 14 days (at their own expense), the Gods were smiling on the family of four and finally at ten pm, Jenna, Matt and their weary girls were escorted to their home by an airport official.
Once inside, their front door was literally sealed up with a big red sticker slapped on the front indicating they were foreigners in quarantine.
It seems they arrived in record time with China since temporarily suspending entry of all foreigners, even those with current valid visas and residence permits.
Meantime, they’ve been required to send their temperature checks in twice daily to their district government leader via We Chat, with a visit from an official in full hazmat to test them for Covid-19.
All food shopping has been done online, the guards at the complex collecting it and bringing it to their door, health workers testing them regularly for coronavirus.
Each resident across China has now been colour coded based on their health and travel status which can be scanned on their mobile phone via QR Codes at any given time. Red equals house or hotel quarantined. Yellow means you can go into the garden and take walks on the street and to work.
Get colour coded green, and you can go (almost) anywhere.
Green means you have had no contact with anyone infected or suspected to be infected with Coronavirus.
Green code or not though, many so called ‘foreigners’ like Matt and Jenna are still being denied entry to many places, including hotels, subways and malls and told some roads are closed to them. A hard pill to swallow after calling China home for 13 years, says a teary Jenna.
Meantime, analysts say it could take at least a year for the country to recover, largely due to softening demand from the rest of the world.
And in Hong Kong, despite strict measures and schools closed since January, the city may have to impose a wider lockdown and close all non-essential businesses for several weeks, after a top government adviser warned of a “third wave” of the outbreak.
So, as we all watch our individual worlds turned upside down from our respective parts of the globe, and we grapple with the human and economic devastation wrought by this unprecedented pandemic, let’s as global citizens avoid pointing the finger of blame.
Stand together, united as one and remember…
“After all this is over, all that will really matter is how well we treated each other.”
Nicole Webb is a Sydney Journalist, Writer and Speaker who spent seven years in China. Her debut memoir ‘China Blonde’ will be out mid 2020.