Covid Observations from Beijing, March 11

Covid Observations from Beijing, March 11. By Dan Wang.

Taikooli, the pedestrian-only shopping district, is easily the most trafficked area in the city. Few people have been walking around for the last month. I estimate that around a quarter of its stores and restaurants are still closed. And it’s less lively in the rest of the city. While every supermarket is open and well-stocked, I estimate that a third of the city’s retail businesses are shut and less than half of all restaurants are operating. …

Most people are staying home — I know of people who have not left their apartments in the last six weeks. …

The silver lining is that Beijing has become pleasantly livable. The shutdown of a great deal of industry has brought many blue skies. The warming weather is a reminder that Beijing is a splendidly beautiful city in the spring and fall. The parks are excellent for birdwatching, and one can have very nice hikes along the Great Wall. …

I see quarantine enforcement. One day in early February, a uniformed municipal employee set up a tent and a table outside my apartment compound, taking the temperatures of everyone leaving and entering. The next day, he gave me a paper slip, saying that I needed to display it every time I came in. It was a good thing that I received that entry card when I did, because I would have to go through a gauntlet of questions to be issued one today. These guards have been the chief enforcers of the quarantines, making sure that those who return from overseas or other provinces have to stay indoors. Given that everyone lives in big apartment compounds, it’s more or less possible to make sure that only approved people are allowed in or out of every residence. From where these enforcers emerged is a mystery. The source of their legal authority to regulate my entry is also unclear; sometimes the entrance is staffed by volunteers, whom I assume are retired Party members. …

I see movement regulations. In every business I enter (whether that’s a restaurant, supermarket, or retailer), someone takes my temperature and asks me to write down my phone number. … To enter my office building, I need to fill in a government app with self-reported health data. …

I see civic spirit. People are making donations to Wuhan, and medical professionals have volunteered to go into the city. Most people are saying that everyone should be trying to save Wuhan, not that the city has to be punished. But I also see awful prejudice. I haven’t personally witnessed people being nasty to Hubei natives, but there are enough reports out there of people native to the province being turned out of their apartments or losing their jobs because of stigma. …

I see rousing propaganda. The top leadership has declared that that the outbreak is a “major test of China’s capacity for governance.” That requires citizens to rally together to drown the virus in a righteous people’s war. Big propaganda posters are everywhere, telling folks to wash hands, minimize going out, wear masks, and seek medical help if sick. …

And I’m seeing a city on the track to recovery. More cars are getting back on the road, and are maybe only 20% off from normal levels. … The heroic efforts of frontline medical professionals in Hubei, combined with extraordinary social distancing practiced by everyone, seem to be containing its spread. A single case undetected case might upset the system once more, but so far there’s reason to be optimistic.

via Tip of the Spear