The cutest Nanjing aunties! — New YouTube videos on coronavirus

I’ve been hard at work trying to come up with content for you during this coronavirus lockdown period, and luckily I still have lots of exciting video from China and Asia, even though I am currently in the United States. So I present some of it here: my experience meeting some vivacious young (at heart) women in Nanjing Youth Cultural Center in February:

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.

Washington and New York have more coronavirus cases than China

U.S. has more coronavirus cases than 24 of China’s provinces

Italy has half as many cases as Hubei

As coronavirus continues to increase around the world, I was interested in looking at the severity of the spread of the virus in different regions. As I was living and reporting from Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, at the time, I realized that some people I talked to assumed the spread of disease was uniformly terrible across China.

At the beginning no other country had it, so Nanjing having any cases made it worse than other places in the world.

Jiangsu ended up having a total of 631 cases (0 deaths) in a population of 80.4 million. In terms of cumulative cases, that puts it behind Canada and just ahead of Japan. Overall, most of China’s provinces were worse than countries in Southeast Asia like Thailand and Viet Nam.

Case data comes from Johns Hopkins’ online dashboard.

(The chart is missing Chongqing municipality, an oversight. Chongqing had 576 cases in a population of 30.5 million, which made it a little bit more severe, at 18.9 per million, than where the U.S. is currently.)

Restrictions on travel in Vietnam increasing

Yesterday over at the long-form blog, I wrote about Việt Nam and the catch-22 of tourism promotion: how the Southeast Asian country was seemingly facing a contradiction between its government wanting to protect its citizens from coronavirus yet also its travel industry wanting to reassure foreigner visitors to keep them coming.

Now, it seems, the imperative to protect public health is winning out decisively. Ever since Patient #17 arrived and spread the virus, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc announced a second phase of war.

According to posts on by travelers currently in Hà Nội and elsewhere in the country, many travelers said they were told their hotels or hostels were going to be closed down soon. One said that the scenic areas around Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park are shutting down. Hạ Long Bay is shut down, as reported, and boat operators in Tràng An are suspending business.

Individual people’s observations cannot be independently confirmed, but there have been news articles reporting on increasing barriers to travel and life.

According to the Straits Times, 25 Dutch tourists in Hội An are quarantined after someone on their flight tested positive. Schools in Saïgon and Hà Nội remain closed until at least the end of March. Entire alleyways surrounding communities and homes are locked down if someone tests positive. British are now banned from entering Việt Nam. Bus companies are cutting trips.

Think twice between backpacking now, especially when knowing you could inadvertently spread the virus to local people. But if you do travel, be aware you might face quarantine.

Update: Many hotels have been closing their doors, as reported.

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:

Overseas Wenzhounese donate to help Wenzhou compatriots under quarantine

Spain is home to more than 100,000 people from Wenzhou, a coastal city in Zhejiang known for its entrepreneurial spirit. Over 2 million Wenzhou people live outside of Wenzhou, and the a majority of the Chinese ethnic populations of many European countries, including Italy and Spain, are Wenzhou people.

Now Wenzhou is the city suffering the worst from coronavirus outside of Hubei province. Over 400 people in Wenzhou have contracted the virus. And it is under semi-quarantine.

Currently rail lines into Wenzhou are shut down, and people who do come into Wenzhou are made to self-quarantine for two weeks. Wenzhou people who leave the city are put into designated hotels for two weeks upon arrival in new cities. And only one member of each household can go shopping every so often.

With Wenzhou people facing hardship, the Wenzhou overseas network has sprung up. Xinhua reports that Wenzhou people in Spain are organizing to help those in both China and Spain.

The author quotes multiple Wenzhounese Spanish residents donating between 1000 and 2000 Euros (7,600 – 15,300 RMB). Some Wenzhounese who had previously flown to Spain are holed up with family members or friends who are helping take care of them while they “self-quarantine” in Spain.

“You going to arrest me?” Unmasked rebels get into arguments, start fights

With coronavirus having infected over 30,000 people, everyone in almost every city in China is either required or heavily encouraged to wear masks whenever they go outside and into public spaces. In some places, it is even legally-binding.

There have, however, been some examples of rebels who went so far as to start fights after being reprimanded for not wearing a mask. There was an example last week, on a public bus in Beijing, where a man was told by the bus attendant that he could not be on the bus if he was not wearing a mask.

“Are you saying I cannot go home if I can’t buy a mask?” he said and told the bus conductor to mind his own business.

The bus conductor said it was his job to enforce the mask rule.

The unmasked man reportedly hit him and was arrested.

Now there is news from February 7 that a man called the police to report himself for not wearing a mask. After being told by a street volunteer to wear a mask and engaging in argument, the man pulled out his phone.

“Hi, 110 [China’s 911]? I am here at Nanshi Fuxiao. They won’t allow me to walk on the street because I’m not wearing a face mask. I’m reporting myself, seeing if you’re going to arrest me or not. I will wait for you!”

He did not end up waiting, but he was apprehended later and, according to Man News, made to give an apology to the street volunteer.