I often used to wonder about Mrs Daley, the character in the 70s TV series who was often mentioned but never seen. I suspect she had agrophobia but now I wonder if she was an early exponent of social distancing! Anyway, we are all Mrs Daleys now as we experience self-isolation, lock downs and quarantines.
For our part we have returned to Shanghai and been subject to the Chinese quarantine procedures and I thought that I would reflect here on how they are different to what is happening in the west. If you follow my blogs you will remember in my last post that Kevin and I were processed through testing at the airport and dispatched to our apartment.
Much of what we are experiencing is the same all over the world, long hours indoors, frustration at not being able to go outside, interaction with other humans being via social media and lots of opportunities to binge watch tv. Like everyone else, I found jobs to do with baking and puzzles and even washed our nets!!!
Some things about our experience though have been very different. We are living in an authoritarian state which is fairly dictatorial in its approach to this crisis. The numbers may have been misinformed at the beginning but now the government is being ruthless in keeping the virus out. We had tested negative at the airport so we knew that we didn’t have the virus but still we had to comply with the strict regulations. We did know that all this would happen before we returned but living it was a experience which I will share.
On the first day of our quarantine we were visited by the ‘gang of 4’; a doctor in full PPE, an assistant in full PPE, an interpreter in full PPE and a policeman. They would not come inside nor were we permitted to step over the threshold. We were handed masks and the conversation was conducted on the doorstep. We signed multiple forms in Chinese, then we were given some hand sanitizer, a bottle of disinfectant, a supply of masks and a thermometer. All of these items were free and supplied by the government. That was very nice of them. Thank you.
We were told to take our temperatures at 9am and 2pm every day and to submit them to a special WeChat group. WeChat is the social media app which is widely used in China and we were signed up. We were told to put our rubbish outside our door at 9am and it would be taken away. In addition we were given a yellow ‘hazardous waste’ plastic bag and told that if we developed any symptoms that we should put our rubbish out in that! Fortunately that was one item which we never needed.
If we had any deliveries then the guard at the gate would bring them up and leave them outside the door, knock and scarper. It felt quite surreal the first time that happened with our groceries and really drove home the reality of the isolation.
Every day we submitted our readings and in addition a doctor knocked on the door to take a further reading, I guess to triangulate against ours and to check that we werent falsifying data. Some days the doctor appeared twice. This was a considerable effort on the part of the local health centre and must have been extremely resource intensive as there were several units to be visited just that I knew about!
We were lucky that China is set up as a nation of online shopping and deliveries. There is a small American grocery store opposite our apartment, something like a large Spar or 7 Eleven. It has an adequate range and lots of imported items, although these began to show as out of stock once the government placed restrictions on all foreigners entering the country. I guess that the planes bringing imported good have been affected. Not to worry, we were able to get fresh fruit and veg, bread and milk and enough essentials to enable me to do lots of baking. Those of you who see my FaceBook posts will remember that I hadn’t quite got the hang of the online system and we ended up with 6 aubergines and I had to research new and exciting dishes. We literally ate aubergines for an entire week. I also have an extremely generous supply of potatoes and 8 lemons!!!
One day a small box appeared on our door. This was a monitoring system and alerted a controller every time the door was opened. They knew when the medical team was visiting, the 9am rubbish dump and the time of any deliveries. If we had opened the door at any other times we would have been inviolation of all those documents that we signed on day 1 and risked a 3 year term in Chinese prison!!! This was Big Brother in action and the first time we had ever been subjected to such stringent surveillance. I cannot imagine this sort of thing happening in the West.
Unlike those in the UK who can take a daily “Boris’ or get outside for some exercise even if just a perambulation around the garden, we were confined to a third floor apartment with just a small balcony. We got some exercise by doing circuits of the sofa and dining table but I can’t tell you how boring that quickly became! On sunny days we did enjoy moving our big chair outside and for a couple of hours at midday we could catch the sun.
Thankfully, we didn’t develop any symptoms and have remained virus-free. We were delighted on Day 14 to receive our all clear and we now have the government health app which shows ‘green’. Yippee! Again, China is set up to use QR code’s extensively and we have been told that if stopped and questioned at all this is our proof that we have a clean bill of health. This means that we can now go out to do our own shopping and on the day of our release we had a celebratory coffee at Starbucks round the corner. Wow, that felt so daring!
On that trip we had to take a slip of paper from the guard at our gate as we left. We then had our temperature checked as we entered the shopping mall, again as we entered Starbucks, again when we entered the supermarket and finally when we returned to our building!!! The resources which are going into monitoring the situation are substantial.
In our area things are returning to normal but cinemas and large scale events are not yet open. We did see people sitting outside the restaurants and lots of children getting their exercise. Everywhere are public announcements and warnings. The crisis is not over yet.
School is still closed. They have made several adjustments and done a very thorough deep clean as per new government regulations and they are waiting for an inspection. After that the Shanghai Municipal Authority will give a date for all the schools to re-open. Some of my colleagues in Huangzhou and Suzhou returned this week. The plan is a rolling return with older children coming back first. There will be much to do once we do get on campus and I am looking forwards to it.
In the meantime I am recording more stories, enough to last up to the end of term as some children will probably not be able to get back here and will likely need to be home schooled for the whole time. I am joining in some class zoom sessions and telling oral stories which is great fun. And nice to SEE the kids again.
We are very pleased about one thing, we have returned to a land of sufficient toilet rolls!
Life is returning to normal slowly, but there is still a long way for us all to go.