So I’m sure you heard about the protests in some of the major cities in China against the government and the strict Covid policies. But what happened after?
From the beginning China has followed a “zero covid” policy, which means isolating cases from the public (and hundreds of their close contacts), constant PCR tests to catch community outbreaks early, lockdowns, and quarantine for all international arrivals.
While these policies serve well in saving lives for the first few years, I think we all know the time has long come for them to end. Even the strictest western countries, like Australia and New Zealand, ended their quarantines and Covid prevention policies about 6 months ago, and everyone in China knew we had to as well. The question was when and at what cost?
Well, the “when” was pushed up by the protests. the rumor was the government had the plan in place and the it was gonna roll back restrictions slowly over a few months. But the economic toll, and the growing anger of the people, forced the government to move up the time frame. And after almost three years of strict policies suddenly everything was lifted in one swoop. No more scanning QR codes, no more covid tests, no more nothing.
…It felt strange…
Gates were removed, stores could open all their doors (where previously only one was open with an employee checking your scanned QR code) and the Covid testing stations at the train station and airports disappeared. It feels equal parts free and terrifying. Suddenly all these restrictions we lived with, which just because a natural part of daily life, were gone.
And weren’t these restrictions put in place to protect us? With them gone does that mean…we’re all gonna die?!?
The thing is people in China have always been scared of Covid. Very scared. You might think the evil communist government used Covid as an excuse to track the population of mindless sheep, cause that was the line from the western media, but that’s actually not true.
The people in China wanted protection in the beginning, insisted on it, willing to give up personal freedoms to temporarily to protect themselves. (Like Americans with the “Patriot Bill” after 9/11.)
If Covid was left unchecked the people would have protested the government wasn’t doing enough and there might very well be a new leader or a new party right now.
But after years, it just went on wayyyyyy too long, and was way too disruptive. The CCP has long been weighing civil unrest due to mass deaths vs. civil unrests due to a poor economy. The Shanghai lockdowns really seemed the tipping point in changing the public’s opinion, and the Xinjiang fire was the final straw. They knew it was time to end it and deal with the surge on the heathcare system.
So everything opened. At once. No more tracking, no more reporting, nothing. It was a complete shock to the system.
And while on one hand it felt great, there were a lot of unintended ironic situations as a result of it.
For instance my university, at midnight last Tuesday, said all students had to go home immediately and would finish the semester online. Huh?! We rarely had online classes, only when Xiamen had a larger outbreak (2 times over the past 2 years.) So why now, when everything was open, were they back to online?
Well, it was to protect the students, or, basically just not deal with the hassle of sick kids. (And kids wanted to go home. In other universities they were protesting to finish online.)
The province decided it was better to send the kids home early while they were healthy instead of waiting for the inevitable wave to get them all sick. For years they were protecting students by keeping them on campus and overnight they were protecting them by kicking them out.
Another ironic thing? Mask wearing has gone up. Previously people felt pretty safe. Covid cases were being caught and isolated so there wasn’t much danger being out in public. Now with people walking around probably sick, everyone is wearing masks all the time. Like, even sitting in Starbucks I see people taking off the mask to sip and then putting it back on after. It’s not a requirement–masks are only required on public transportation and for food service staff–just what people here want to do. (Masks are not a political issue here so nobody cares.)
But the most ironic thing is there seems to be a new kinda lockdown. Not forced, but self imposed. A “sick down” as it was. As Omicron washes through the country stores are closing because they don’t have enough staff and people are staying home cause they are sick or avoiding it.
So things can be opened and yet they are closed.
I’ve heard that hospitals are packed and the health care system is overwhelmed. I’m not sure how true that is. Maybe in bigger cities like Shanghai and Beijing? But I went to the hospital here in Xiamen just the other day, to get a prescription, and it was totally normal. No giant lines, no wailing ambulances bringing in gurneys of old people, nothing. And xiamen is a city of 5 million people with not a lot of hospitals. It would be easy to overwhelm them here and they aren’t yet.
So I’m taking that news with a grain of salt. As I am taking the death toll projections. Deaths are not being as publicly shared as they were before, so we will never know the real numbers. But from living here, and knowing people (and yes, people talk) I haven’t heard any inklings of mass waves of deaths. Just the elderly/already sick people. Very sad, but expected.
And medicines were hoarded and sold out, but only because people got scared and bought way more than they needed. Luckily I have some super old Tylenol so I’m all good. Good news is no toilet paper hoarding though canned peaches were. Culture difference I guess.
And of course the internet is hilarious as it’s the first time we are all sick, all together, so people are making hilarious tic toks and a lot of viral memes. I won’t get into it as a lot will be lost in translation, but trust me, they are funny.
I, of course, have covid as I am writing this. I lead a pretty active life and don’t avoid areas with big crowds, but it took me about a week and a half to get it after opening. I have a little sore throat, some weak muscles, nothing to freak out about. No fever, no chills and if this writing make sense then my brain is still working. (And I am recovered by the time I published this.)
So that’s it. From zero covid policy to zero fucks policy practically overnight. The last covid restriction to go is international arrivals. If you arrive in China today from abroad you still need 5 days in a hotel quarantine, but that will end Jan 8th, so basically just one more week. If you want to come to China, come after the eighth.
Azhi and I are hitting up Shanghai Disney this weekend. Last time I went to Disney, or really traveled anywhere, was Jan 2021. We could have traveled but it would be a big mess with PCR tests, green QR codes and a lot of paperwork. It wasn’t worth it to me. So it’s a long overdo trip to see friends, have some fun and say hi to Mickey. All the traveling I have done has been in trains and cars, so this will be my first plane ride in THREE YEARS! Hope I remember how it works. (I’m supposed to bang the seat in front of me and take off my shoes and socks and stick my toes in the slot between chairs right?)
Honestly I have always felt safest living in China during the pandemic, and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. But it went on about six months too long, and I am VERY happy we are moving on from it. If our payment is getting Covid, then so be it. It seems like no country can get out of this completely untouched, and locking down until the less harmful Omicron strain dominated unequivocally saved millions of lives.
But the best news is that after six years I will finally make a return to the US for a visit! Now there is no paperwork and no fear of getting locked outside the country I am finally going to make the trek back summer 2023. Save the date!