Coronavirus updates: Trains to Wuhan resume, schools to open soon

  • China has issued a temporary block on any non-Chinese citizen from entering China. Visas appear to still be valid when the block is lifted.
  • China closed movie theatres across the country after briefly reopening them.
  • Primary and secondary schools are scheduled to reopen in early April.
  • The first trains from outside have arrived in Wuhan, according to CGTN. Wuhan’s quarantine will be completely lifted on April 8.

Outside China

  • U.S. President Donald Trump has signaled he is considering implementing quarantines on the hardest-hit regions, such as New York.
  • This comes after he withdrew from a considered $1 billion deal to produce ventilators.
  • Travelers report they are stuck in the airport in Malaysia for 2 weeks after trying to travel to Thailand despite a travel ban and being sent back to Malaysia, which also has a travel ban in place.
  • All beaches in Phuket province of Thailand have been closed.

It’s springtime in China. The rapeseed flowers are blooming in Gaochun, Nanjing.

Gaochun, a rural suburb at the very southernmost tip of Nanjing, bordering Anhui province on its south, is famous for its beautiful yellow rapeseed flowers, which are in bloom now. I had written on my blog before:

South of urban Nanjing, the fields have just turned blazingly yellow this month. Rapeseed, which is used for cooking oil (canola) and cattle feed, is one of the major agricultural products of the fertile Jiangnan (江南, which means “south of the [Yangtze] river”) region. China is the number two producer of rapeseed in the world (behind Canada), producing 15 million tons in 2016. Taking the high speed train between Nanjing and Shanghai, I would see the yellow go by every spring.

Gaochun is one of the best places to see the flowers in easily-accessible fields. Walk or take a bike along a paved road through the fields, and get off to walk within the fields. Nearby, white-walled homes complement the timeless aesthetic.

Now I received the above video from a friend in Gaochun. Enjoy.

Italians in China questioned about travel

Police officers are knocking on the doors of Italians in Shanghai. With over 3,000 cases of coronavirus in Italy, China is trying to prevent the virus from spreading from overseas.

Salvatore Banco, an Italian citizen who works for a tax advising firm in Shanghai, described his interaction:

They came to my place last Monday. They asked if I was okay, healthy, and if I went back to my country during the past 2 weeks. They just took a photo of myself, and they found my passport data. Then, I showed them the authorization to live in my current apartment. Also, they checked the other Italian people in my place. They were friendly and fast, just 10 minutes.

As I wrote at The National Interest, China also has tight self-isolation/quarantine policies in effect at airports for arriving passengers from Korea.

The American embassy in Beijing also sent an email this morning stating, “Effective immediately, cities including Beijing and Shanghai, as well as Guangdong and Sichuan Provinces will require people who have recently visited countries with “severe outbreaks” (including South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy) to be quarantined for 14 days in a Chinese facility, greatly restricting or eliminating the passengers ability to leave quarantine during the 14-day observation period.”

Crazy month

I never would have thought China (or the world) would be like this when I headed out.

Thinking back on the past month, it really is crazy how things developed. I think back now to the whispers around January 20th: “You should wear a mask.” The masks were starting to be sold out of many convenience stores, even though the severity of the virus was not fully known or reported then.

By January 23, I was wearing masks–I had been fortunate to find some in a less bustling part of the city before they sold out there, too–but masks were still not mandatory. Friends were telling me they were trying to convince their parents to cancel Spring Festival feasts. Small towns were putting up roadblocks and isolating people who returned from Hubei. On January 25, public places across the country were shutdown. Only in the coming days, did preventative measures begin to catch up with the severity, as malls and businesses were made to close and units were organized to look after residential communities.

What follows are a selection of my videos from late January to today that follow my time in China and the development of the coronavirus story:

Difference between “quarantine” and “observation” (隔离 and 观察)

Walking around Chinese cities and looking at signs at the gates of residential communities and notices posted to hotels and businesses, you will notice many different terminologies to describe different kinds of anti-coronavirus activities.

What do each of them mean? What, for example, is the difference between “隔离” (essentially, “quarantine”) and “观察” (“observation”)?

Talking to one person outside a hotel where people under "observation" were held, this is what they said:
"Observation" is less stringent. "Observation" lasts 7 days. It applies to some people who have been through certain areas but haven't shown symptoms. 

A group of people who worked for the same company were put into the same hotel and were being "observed" for 7 days and were carrying bouquets of flowers they had been given when they got to the end of their stay. The hotels are specially used only for people being observed, and air conditioning is turned off.

"Quarantine" applies either to people show show symptoms or who are coming from the most serious areas: Hubei province and Wenzhou city, among others.

Now there are different policies in place in different cities and different districts of the same city and different policies for different circumstances. The policies are changing over time, too. So the above is not a crystal clear answer, nor an answer that applies in all cases.

The word “观察” has also been used for periods of 14 days.

Post-Spring Festival, neighborhood watches and McDonalds through the window

Spring Festival holiday ended February 9, but cities still have not returned to normal. As I wrote in my latest article for The National Interest, most businesses are not scheduled to return to operation until late February.

Restaurants are supposed to be closed, in accordance with local regulations, but I did observe some small restaurants skirting/not following the rules, I mentioned in my article. Fast food joints are permitted to be open, however, so if you do not have a kitchen–and I do not, in my hotel–your only options are not-technically-legal family-run restaurant (👌), instant noodles, or dumplings/McDonalds spicy chicken sandwich by motorbike.

McDonalds and KFC only process mobile orders, however, so if you visit one of their brick and mortar locations, you have to order by scanning the QR code at the door then have your food handed to you through the window.

Residential districts have teams of Communist Party volunteers monitoring who enters and leaves and taking temperature.

Those who return to Nanjing from outside of the city (hundreds of millions of Chinese returned to ancestral homes for the lunar new year) are to be monitored for 14 days, with a particular focus on those who are returning from Hubei province or Wenzhou city (one of the hardest-hit cities outside of Hubei, as I wrote in another TNI article).

Almost all the shops are closed except for convenience stores and a few other snack vendors, so most streets are long lines of metal gates. There is something I find beautiful, or just eye-catching, about the multi-colored advertisements for roll-down gate repairmen stuck to roll-down gates.

One in particular, graffiti on graffiti:

Empty shelves in China: Supermarkets running out of fruits and vegetables

In the wake of panic buying caused by the coronavirus outbreak, shelves in supermarkets selling fruits, vegetables, disinfectants, and, of course, face masks, are empty at many stores across the country.

Where I am residing, Nanjing, Jiangsu’s provincial capital and the former capital of multiple dynasties, about 190 miles northeast from Shanghai, the fruits and vegetables had been cleaned out from one Hema Supermarket in the Jianye district by afternoon of January 28. Most of them had been restocked by morning of January 29.

Meanwhile local convenience stores still stock packaged oranges and dragonfruit.

Some news outlets, authority figures, and friends have been advising the public to eat more fruits and vegetables to ward off the virus.

Passengers on flights from Thailand to Nanjing quarantined for two weeks

Passengers on two flights from Bangkok to Nanjing are being quarantined after having landed in Nanjing the night of January 26, according to CCTV News.

Up to 333 passengers on Thai AirAsia flight FD326 and Thai Lion Air flight SL922 were affected. Forty-eight of the passengers were discovered to have visited Wuhan before. After an inspection, the passengers were taken to a medical center to be quarantined for 14 days.

“Urgent search for passengers!” Travelers on train cars with sick people urged to seek attention

Any passengers who rode in train cars with people who were found to have contracted coronavirus are urged by Chinese authorities, in calls promoted in the press, to visit a disease prevention and control center in their hometown.

An article in People’s Daily titled, “Spread urgently! Urgent search for Jan. 21 passengers of car #7 in train D3937,” warns that a passenger who got off the train in southwestern Guangxi province has been confirmed to have the disease.

The train, which runs a relatively short distance from Liuzhou, Guangxi to Dali, Yunnan in the neighboring province, does not pass through Wuhan or the province of Hubei at any point.

Other warnings were published about other trains.

Many Chinese people are reluctant to take trains, planes, and buses now. Some do not even want to take public transportation in their own city! The Nanjing Metro and others have made wearing face masks on board mandatory.

Tips for celebrating Spring Festival in the time of coronavirus

Coronavirus has caused Wuhan to be virtually quarantined from outside transportation, disrupted people’s plans and lives, and infected over 1,200 people. But while the situation is dire in central China, people in most of the country are relatively safe.

People are still taking precautions, though. Surgical masks are sold out at some pharmacies. Some people are hosting smaller gatherings than they had anticipated. Museums and public places across the country are closed to decrease the risk of the virus spreading.

But it’s still Chinese New Year, and, although I opted against traveling further afoot to celebrate, I’m still going to observe the festival here in Nanjing. I grabbed a bottle of bai jiu and shared it with some friends I met at the hostel.

Celebrating Spring Festival in a big city is always different, because most of the residents go back to their ancestral hometown. But here are a few tips that apply both in ordinary times and now with the disease spreading:

  • Bai jiu kills viruses, don’t you know. Drink up!
  • Unless you are seasoned in the appreciation of bai jiu (producer Derek Sandhaus says you need hundreds of drinks to develop a taste), most foreigners can’t tell the difference between two different brands of bai jiu. I say, select the cheapest.
  • Lots of restaurants in cities are closed during Spring Festival, but Lanzhou beef noodle restaurants are almost always open. (As are restaurants in mass tourism districts, like Fuzimiao and Laomendong in Nanjing.)
  • Take precautions and use common sense. One local village broadcast on its loudspeakers a call encouraging residents to tell their relatives working in Wuhan to stay home. But don’t go overboard. It’s still Spring Festival, after all, and nothing you worry about is going to decrease the likelihood of you getting sick.