I know the word “China” is still a trigger for many, but it’s been awhile since I’ve updated the situation on the ground here so I thought I would take a moment to do so.
Just so you know, Xiamen (population 4 million, equal to the second largest city in America but ranked 30 in China) topped out around 65 confirmed cases during the beginning of the pandemic, and none in recent months. We have had 21 imported cases since then, but everyone arriving from another country is brought directly from the airport in special buses to special hotels where they are quarantined and tested for 14 days, so none of the imported cases ever made it out into the community.
If you watch my Youtube videos you’ll see things look pretty normal here…and well, they kinda are. Things aren’t pre-virus levels of normal, but certainly we have settled into the “new normal” everyone is talking about. Masks aren’t required to be worn outside, but still required on subways and buses and some shops.
Waiters, shop keeps, cleaners (indoors), nurses, drivers and doctors, among others also have to wear masks and sometimes gloves during their entire shift.
Movie theaters have only JUST opened, with some pretty crazy rules: only 30% capacity can be sold, masks must be worn the whole time, no eating or drinking of any kind allowed, everyone must sit apart and movies must be under 2 hours. But hey, at least we can go see Mulan in the theaters now.
Planes are still limited (for international flights, one company gets one flight once a week to a few select cities) with a rule that if a flight has more than 6 covid cases on it, the flight gets cancelled for a few weeks and the airline can’t fly it. BUT…if they go three weeks without any covid cases, then they are rewarded with another flight per week. Foreigners are still blocked from entering China (with some exceptions, but no normal tourists and my poor co-workers are going on almost 6 months of being locked out) and if you want to be admitted to the hospital you still need to be tested for covid first as is anyone that accompanies you (see my other blog post for more about that.)
Schools have been in session for months (well it’s summer break now, but before that) and they have some strict rules to follow as well, including everyone being tested before they were allowed to start school (students, teachers, administrators and workers), disinfectant routines and staggered start and end times. If there is a small outbreak in the community, usually around 20 triggers it, then classes are cancelled until it is under control.
People who test positive for Covid are taken to the hospital to be treated, even if they have mild symptoms. (And not released until they test negative two days in a row). Anyone who is asymptomatic (truly asymptomatic, not pre-symptomatic) are either sent to the hospital until they test negative, or locked up under quarantine in their houses for a few weeks just to make sure. They are also continually randomly tested after the quarantine period. Trace contacting is immediate and one person (asymptomatic or sick) can quarantine between 20-200 people, depending on their whereabouts the days before.
(Little last minute update–There was one asymptomatic patient in Fuzhou–the capital city of the province I live in, and he took public transportation and went around the city before he had a test. As a result, and remember this is ONE ASYMPTOMATIC person, the city took “wartime measures” to prevent an outbreak. As of yet, no one has been found to be infected from this one person but they are still being vigilant and testing thousands.)
So, you see, China takes this seriously. I saw a Daily Show where Trevor Noah reported on the Beijing “outbreak” a few weeks ago. Due to a mere 330 sick people they closed much of the city, limited transportation and tested 10 million people in one month to stop it from spreading. He said he was certain the government was covering up a major outbreak because no one would go to such extremes for only 300 cases.
But here’s the thing…China does go to great extremes, even just for one case. In fact they just announced lockdown in a part of the city of Dalian because of…THREE cases. They are now on track to test 190,000 people in the next few days in the neighboring areas to prevent the outbreak of three people from spreading.
They also don’t just test people. They test hundreds of items from pets to cutting boards and basically anything in between (that’s how the found the cutting board with covid in the Beijing outbreak.) If a place is found to have covid on an item, like packaging or a cutting board, then it is closed, all items tossed and the place is thoroughly disinfected, re-tested and finally re-opened. Then they gotta figure out HOW that item got Covid (was it a person who coughed and got germs on it, or did it come from outside and can covid travel on packages and such?)
So that’s what the new normal is. It sometimes feels like trying to plug up a leaky bucket as it is impossible to totally prevent these outbreaks no matter how strict prevention measures are, but I prefer this method to the “every man woman and child for themselves” that America seems to be taking. Also, in China we have been getting one clear and consistent message from the beginning: wear a mask, wear a mask, wear a mask.
People say that Asian are “more obedient” than western countries and therefore the extreme measures taken here, South Korea etc. would never work in other places. But that shows a lack of understanding of Asia. Hong Kong has been protesting their government majorly for months and SEVERELY distrusts their leaders, and yet when the virus came they listened to what the officials said. Why?
One, because it was a science based approach. The countries that have handled the pandemic successfully have all had a unified, science-based, health official led, message.
But two, and I think this point is more important, they were actually scared of this virus. Western countries aren’t so much. Let’s take America as an example. American’s have a sort of arrogant belief in their healthcare system. America has good hospitals, brilliant doctors and a robust medical system that can fix almost any problem. Sure the way we pay for our health care is a nightmare, but no one can disagree that our hospitals and doctors are top notch. They can save a lot of people’s lives.
But developing or poorer countries don’t have that long held rock solid belief. Like Vietnam. Despite bordering China, they have had zero Covid deaths and a total of 400 cases (as of this writing). Is it because Vietnam has amazing hospitals or a small spread out population? Actually quite the opposite.
They know they are a developing country, they know they have poor healthcare, congested cities and if the virus was to enter the country it would tear through it. So they were scared. And they took it very seriously. Not just the government, but the people. They didn’t nitpick about who was more likely to get sick, or if masks worked, they locked down fast. They were one of the first countries after China to mandate masks, start a VERY serious lock down for citizens and closed their borders to foreigners immediately. These strict measures are what saved them from the worst.
One interesting difference between the east and the west is the messaging the government is giving people. In America the message seems to be “I don’t wear a mask for me, I wear it to protect you.”
That’s a nice message but it also gives false security. The thinking behind that is “I’m not likely to get it and I’ll be fine if I do, I just don’t want grandma to get it.” It gives younger people a feeling of invincibility, it segments the population by age, and gives different rules to different people (aka inconsistent messaging. After all if you don’t live with grandma then why should you worry, right?!).
We aren’t getting that message her. Our message is “Wear a mask to save your country” which takes individuals out of the equation and makes it everyone responsibly to help the country. It’s easier to get people to be patriotic then it is to care abut strangers, so in this polarized age we are living in being patriotic is a more effective message (after all, don’t anti-maskers claim they are being more patriotic by asserting their freedom? And mask wearers claim they are being patriotic by wearing masks? If there was a clear message about what was “patriotic” in America, I think more people would wear masks.)
Children and even little babies wear masks both out on the street and in the classroom. As long as they are proper size (aka kid sized) most kids are willing to wear them without a lot of fussing. I know that’s a big talking point in America with school re-openings “kids will never wear masks!” but if they see everyone around them wearing masks they go along with it. Remember when you were a kid and you made braces out of paperclips, or wore glasses with no lenses because that’s what the adults around you wore and you wanted to be cool like them? If the whole adult society is doing something, kids are more likely to follow.
We aren’t so segmented here with worrying about certain age groups and basically ignoring the others. We don’t think it’s okay for young people to party, or kids to go back to school if there are sick people in the community. Everyone is scared they will get it, so everyone takes precautions to prevent it.
But ultimately all these precautions and inconveniences add up to about 5 minutes per day. It’s a price worth paying if it means we can go to the movies, have parties, visit friends and pack the beaches with no fear we are endangering ourselves or other people.
China has proven in recent months it puts the health and safety of people far above economic growth, and honestly, that reassures me. I’m sorry for the people who are forced to closed their shop because they live in a 20 mile radius from a confirmed case, but I’m also kinda glad they do that. (In Beijing, kids went home for lunch, as they do normally, and the schools called the parents during the lunch break and said “don’t bring the kids back after lunch, schools are closing until the outbreak is stopped.” I’m sure it was a MAJOR inconvenience for parents to be told that so suddenly and would never happen in America, but it was certainly a factor that kept the outbreak below 400 people, in a city with population of 21 million–three times more than NYC.)
I know a lot of American’s don’t want to hear all this. They don’t want to hear that life is back to normal in China, or that we are out and about without fearing for our lives. They want to believe the stories of bodies piling up secretly and everyone walking around sick, giant conspiracies being covered up by the gov’t. They want us to be miserable and dying because it’s the “chinese virus” and we “deserve to be punished.” I kinda get it, but I’m also mad. I mean, at this point America (and other countries that aren’t taking it seriously) have had so much warning, so much info about masks, have seen other countries recover (both western and Asian) that it’s their own fault for spiraling so out of control.
So, that’s the situation now on the streets where I live. It’s safe and possible to travel around in country (and encouraged even, to stimulate the economy) but I’m gonna stay in Xiamen. You never know when a little breakout can happen and I don’t want to get stuck in a place there is a little outbreak of a dozen people nearby and planes and trains are stopped to prevent the spreading. And anyway, Xiamen is one of the top tourist destinations in China so there is always a ton to do and I’ve managed to have way too much fun these past few weeks.
Stay safe everyone!