It has been an unusual time to live in China these days. I remember when the H7N9 virus made its debut. And I heard of the panic that the H1N1 virus produced, but I didn’t expect to be quarantined because of a virus that originated from central China in Wuhan called Covid-19.
Perhaps not the most elegantly named virus, but it certainly has had its casualties. Currently, over 80,000 people have contracted the virus in China, and over 77,000 people have contracted it outside the country. Over 3,000 Chinese have died, and over 2,700 people worldwide have died from it.
When the government began to take this epidemic seriously, the Chinese New Year had just begun. Hundreds of millions of people had migrated home to celebrate the most important holiday out of the year. Those in Wuhan and Hubei Province began to realize this would not be a year to celebrate.
At first, the whole city was effectively quarantined. And then, the whole province was in lockdown, more or less. No more large family gatherings. No more travels. No more eating out. No one was allowed to physically leave their city or town.
Unfortunately, the lockdown came too late. The virus had no respect for such man-made conventions. In fact, it mocked such attempts to thwart its progress. And so it spread throughout all of China, even to the mountains of Tibet and the deserts of Gansu.
Suddenly, face masks were mandatory whenever you left your apartment. Bus drivers refused to give service to those without one. Then people with red bands on their jacket sleeves (effectively the neighborhood watch) began joining the guards at each apartment complex. They set up a makeshift tent with a table and some chairs at the entrances of each complex.
Whenever you left or entered the complex, you had to sign your name on a sheet of paper. It also included your address, time of departure, phone number, passport number, and temperature. Each of these quarantine stops had a thermometer that could scan the skin without touching it. Certainly a preference to the ones you stick under your tongue.
At any rate, they seemed relatively effective. It was set to Celsius. So I had to convert in my head, but the guards seemed happy with the results. A few times it just said “Lo,” which I suppose was a better alternative than “Hi.”
Shopping became a more cumbersome task. You had to sign relevant personal information and have your temperature scanned at the entrance to the store. And nearly all restaurants shut down for about a month. So no more food delivery service. Back to cooking pasta and tacos as well as frozen dumplings.
While my food choices may have lessened, my Chinese vocabulary expanded a bit. I learned new words like 病毒 (bingdu) which means virus and 口罩 (kouzhao) which means mask. Also, there were red banners popping up around our complex and in the city with catchy sayings to encourage people to stay home. Something like , “Avoid large parties. Avoid other people. Stay safe and healthy.”
I didn’t like parties anyways. I had a roommate, but besides him, I didn’t interact with hardly anyone most days. And I didn’t have a fever or sore throat so I felt fairly healthy. However, all the time inside staring at a computer screen was most likely not improving my health or strengthening my body.
Many of my students were also tired of staying home and ready to return to school. If students were that desperate to go back to school, then clearly the vacation time had been too long. Unfortunately, we won’t resume official classes until April at the earliest. It seems like the universities are looking to Beijing for direction, and the modus operandi is caution.
And so another week passes of relative inaction and prescribed reclusiveness. Recently, the infected cases have levelled off in China but begun to rise in other parts of the world. The preparedness of each country’s government (or lack thereof) and their healthcare system will be severely tested.
It is an uncertain time for many when fear and panic can overwhelm us. But it is comforting to know that we have a sovereign God who cares for us infinitely more than the flowers that bloom in spring. When there is no one else to go to, we can cast our cares on Him.