Recently I was in Gansu reporting on the Shenzhou 13 spaceflight mission. A day after I returned to Beijing, I received a message from the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control asking me to report to them.
I recalled that a couple who had recently toured Gansu, Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi had contracted Covid-19. The counties and cities they went to and the Jiayuguan Airport they had used were all places that I had visited.
This was my first time coming into contact with Covid-19-positive people since the pandemic occurred. Was I considered a close contact? Would I be strictly monitored? Would my health code now flash red, and would that affect my movements in Beijing? Endless questions popped into my mind and I was feeling a little uneasy.
Knowing that China has always been strict about its Covid-19 containment measures, I decided to take a nucleic acid amplification test at a nearby clinic immediately and report to the residential area I live in.
Although there were only a few cases scattered here and there, this wave of infections spread very quickly. As of 23 October, there were a total of 133 confirmed cases across Shaanxi, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Hunan, Guizhou, Beijing and other regions.
Everything from the signing of the undertaking on home quarantine, arranging for nucleic acid amplification tests at my home, to booking an appointment for home environment monitoring and deep cleaning took place in an orderly manner.
On the afternoon of 19 October, community staff called me to get acquainted with my situation. I was told that Beijing had already started screening people with recent travel histories to Shaanxi, Gansu and so on. I would be placed under a 14-day home quarantine and a seven-day health monitoring programme. I was to return home as soon as possible after making the necessary work arrangements.
After that, I was added to a WeChat chat group that included community staff and community health service centre staff. Everything from the signing of the undertaking on home quarantine, arranging for nucleic acid amplification tests at my home, to booking an appointment for home environment monitoring and deep cleaning took place in an orderly manner.
What would happen to my meals during this period of self-isolation? Community staff explained that I could order meals or fresh goods online, and have the delivery man leave them at my doorstep.
How would I throw rubbish without stepping out of my house? Community staff would contact my residential area’s property management department and the latter would arrange a regular garbage pickup. I would only need to leave the garbage bags at my doorstep.
A sensor would also be attached to my door, so that community staff would be notified each time it opened or closed. But I was assured that this would not affect me opening the door to collect my meals and parcels. I would also need to take my temperature twice a day and keep the WeChat chat group apprised of my health condition.
A population sensitised to quarantines and Covid tests
After answering my questions, the staff said over the phone, “You can let us know of your needs in the WeChat chat group and we will try our best to meet them.” He even consoled me, “Fourteen days will go by in a flash.”
And just like that, I began my first quarantine experience since the pandemic occurred. Colleagues who were on the same work trip as me also received orders from the community at around the same time as me.
Compared to other countries, the Chinese people are more willing to abide by strict control measures and accept the inconvenience to their daily lives. At the same time, their desire for zero-Covid is much higher than in other countries, which puts greater pressure on the authorities.
Someone joked that in half a day, they had been “assaulted by calls from everywhere”, while an “experienced” Chinese colleague shared in the group that on her return to Beijing, she took extra care to self-isolate and did not come into contact with her family members, so that they would not have to be quarantined too.
It can be seen that after nearly two years of the pandemic and repeatedly clamping down on various outbreaks, the Chinese authorities have developed a comprehensive and sophisticated process to handle the pandemic. On their part, the Chinese have adjusted to a new way of life and can calmly handle sudden outbreaks and quarantine requirements. They know how to minimise the impact of outbreak measures on their daily lives, but once they cannot avoid being affected, they accept it with equanimity.
Compared to other countries, the Chinese people are more willing to abide by strict control measures and accept the inconvenience to their daily lives. At the same time, their desire for zero-Covid is much higher than in other countries, which puts greater pressure on the authorities. In particular, local officials in places where there are outbreaks will think of everything they can to quickly eliminate the virus.
When this current outbreak first started, there was a story of a Covid-positive couple from Xi’an in Shaanxi who ignored the test results and went sightseeing, only to be lambasted online. Xi’an netizens were furious and blamed the failure to contain the coronavirus on Jiayuguan city, where the couple had stayed before arriving in Xi’an, with many calls for accountability. It is clear that the Chinese public’s tolerance for the virus is lower than in other countries.
Will Chinese mindsets change fast enough？
With rising vaccination rates, many countries have adjusted their previous zero-Covid approach. In Singapore, for example, the authorities have shifted from the initial strategy of eliminating the virus to a policy of living with the virus, and are trying to balance opening the economy with controlling the virus.
In comparison, China is still insisting on zero-Covid. It is generally felt that China will not loosen border controls before the Beijing Winter Olympics in February next year; it is even possible that the strict measures will extend until after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 20th Party Congress in autumn next year.
The Chinese authorities’ success in controlling the virus has to some extent increased the expectations of the Chinese people in achieving zero-Covid. As long as there are outbreaks, panic and anxiety spreads in the community, which is probably also a challenge for the authorities in “switching tracks” in their control measures. However, as more countries abandon zero-Covid and open up borders, forming an international “new normal” outside of China, will China be able to continue sticking to zero-Covid? As it becomes increasingly urgent to switch tracks, can the Chinese change their mindsets in time?
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