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:
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.
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.
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.