Two weeks ago I was still in Germany laughing off the hysteria about the Corona infections and doubted the virus would have any effect on me. Now, two weeks later I am back in China and while my family and I are all well and healthy, the impact the virus had on our daily live is something I have not dealt with before.
The virus hit right before the Chinese New Year’s festival season while everyone, including myself, was preparing to meet the extended family and celebrate the beginning of the year of the rat. Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday season in China, comparable to Christmas in western countries and brings the China to a halt for a whole week. This year though the holiday got an unexpected extension, by decree of the central government in Beijing. All companies were ordered to give an additional 3 days paid-leave to their employees so that the great migrating between provinces starts later and would confine the virus. However, the trend of increased infections did not reverse during the holiday, and so companies were asked to postpone opening of their offices and factories and additional full week until 10th of February.
I was lucky that we celebrated Chinese New Year on the small island Shengsi, just 100km west off the coast from Shanghai. The island has had 0 cases of confirmed infections and live here felt just like it did every year, extremely slow and cozy, like it should be on a fisher island.
There are usually several ferries going back to the mainland everyday, but since the Corona crisis broke out the local government hast reduced the ferries to 1 boat every day. There is also no public transport from the port on the mainland to the cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou or Ningbo, and only individual cars are permitted to travel on the highways. The government tries to keep travel to an absolute minimum to avoid the further spread of the disease has the military and police control travelers everywhere along the roads.
To travel from Shengsi to our home in Hangzhou for example we would have to go through at least 5 fever check-points: the first when boarding the ferry on Shengsi, the second when getting of the boat on the mainland, the third at a checkpoint along the highway towards Hangzhou, the fourth at a checkpoint when entering the city of Hangzhou, and the final check at the gates of our residential compound in Hangzhou.
This route right now is just theoretical though, because since yesterday the city of Hangzhou as pretty much quarantined itself and does not allow anyone to enter the city whose ID is not from Hangzhou.
While these measures look outlandish to me, I must say that I feel extremely safe and confident in the government to contain the situation as good as they can right now. While were most likely at the outbreak of the crisis, I cannot think of any other state doing a better job right now. The city of Wuhan did underestimate the severity of the virus in the beginning and tried to cover up the cases so the bad news would not interfere with official meetings being held that time. In addition, after SARS broke out in China in 2003, the government built the largest disease surveillance & reporting system in the world. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out this time.
Yes, these are grave shortcomings, and they are saddening especially for the thousands of people whose health is affected by the nCov-Corona. Those mistakes or others for that matter do happen in other, more and less developed, more and less autocratic nations, more or less populated nations, all the time as well.
At this moment, of course, China is in dire need of more medical supplies such as face masks, but this inevitably is what happens when 1.4 billion people start wearing face masks on a daily basis. Apart from the obvious health crisis that is going on with over 20.000 suspected cases of infections, I feel there is no transparency crisis from an autocratic Chinese Government. Information is plentiful and freely shared on social media and of course face-to-face. I myself was visited and informed by the local police on my doorstep about the severity of the virus and steps I should take to preserve my health and that of my family and community.
Today it looks like that the virus has been successfully contained. While there were more than 2.000 new cases every day just 3 - 4 days ago, the trend seems to be slowing down with less than 500 new cases confirmed overnight.
What I am most grateful for is that we are Shengsi at the moment, with healthy and able bodies and can live our days in relative safety from this health crisis.