What do you usually do on the weekends? Shop, hang out with friends, eat out at restaurants? Since the coronavirus outbreak, the answer for most people is simply staying at home and practicing social distancing. Those residing in China, however, are experiencing a tighter lockdown, as the nation has been taking strong measures to control the virus through closing stores and implementing new laws and policies.
Since 27 cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in Wuhan on Dec. 31, China has started enforcing lockdowns in multiple cities and later, in the entire country. People living in China are continuing to face limitations, as well as significant changes to their lifestyles and careers, as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout not only the nation, but the world.
Currently, I am an international student living in the US while my parents and relatives remain in China. I was curious as to how another nation had been handling and controlling the virus; thus, I reached out to my family members to get a better idea of their experiences.
From January to early March, my mother, Regina Ma, described that everyone living in China was not allowed to leave their home except for emergency services and essential purchases. Hospital services were closed to everyone except people with serious illnesses, and if anyone visited another province in China, they would have to be isolated for 14 days. Additionally, small businesses and companies were forced to close down for the time being.
In addition to small businesses closing, schools and universities have been closed as well. My cousin, Wanhan Zhi, was in her first year of receiving her Ph.D. at Renmin University when the lockdown was enforced, and she was required to return home. At first, she had not fully comprehended the seriousness of the virus and only thought it would last one to two months. Wanhan believes, however, that the Chinese government has taken necessary measures to control the virus. “The Chinese government has done a lot of things to prevent this from spreading, such as teaching us to stay at home, organizing workers to produce more masks to allow everyone to have them,” she said. “They also organized the scientists to focus on this issue and dealing with the virus.”
The government has also put different rules and regulations into place since the coronavirus first broke out. My mother, who is living in Nanchang, felt her life significantly impacted by the new rules and policies. “Our opportunities to go out each day were limited,” she said. “There were people guarding each neighborhood to test your temperature and to give you a pass to go out. We could only go out once every two days, and it was only to purchase food and other necessities.” Before going out, she had to give the guards her apartment information to receive a pass to leave the neighborhood. The pass served as a way for guards to ensure that only one person from each household left the neighborhood every two days.
When my mom went into supermarkets, she was required to wear a mask and have her temperature checked. At the beginning of March, however, a barcode was created on WeChat and it became required for shoppers to scan the code upon entrance. When a person entered their credentials on the application, the barcode would show up as three different colors once scanned. If a person showed no record of hospital visits, the barcode would be green and if a person went to a public area with someone who had a record of the coronavirus, their code would show up as yellow. Once that happened, the person whose code had been scanned yellow would have to stay at home for 14 days. The red shown on the barcode was specific to people who stayed in hospitals and had the coronavirus and therefore would not be allowed out of their house and into any public places.
The code was also used at businesses and companies before an employee attended work. “On the door of my company was a QR code to be scanned on WeChat and, upon arrival, I had to scan the code first,” my father, Jolson Cao, the deputy CEO of a bank in China said. “And if my barcode showed up as green, then my temperature would be taken by the security guards. If my temperature was normal, I would be let into my office for work.” He mentioned, however, that if the barcode was scanned red, or if his temperature was above 37.3ºC, the head of health of the firm would send a car for him to be further tested for the coronavirus. Furthermore, my father was required to wear a mask every day to work.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, masks weren’t mandatory and the streets were filled with people as they went shopping on the weekend, took a walk around the park, and visited their friends and relatives. From January to early March, however, everyone was forced to stay at home with the exception of making essential purchases. “If you viewed China from the sky, you would have seen every road in every city empty,” my mother said.
Although restaurants and malls have slowly begun to open up since early March, many people are still scared to go out, and the malls are nearly empty. All stores have taken serious measures against the coronavirus by requiring all employees and shoppers to wear masks and for many shops, the scanning of the barcode on WeChat. While the strict lockdown in China has lifted, the fear of going out and catching the virus still acts as a deterrent from resuming normal life once again.