Shanghai and the virus

After two years of keeping Covid-19 at bay, China has recently experienced a surge in Omicrom cases. Until now, the strict immigration policies of three weeks in quarantine on arrival in the country has proven effective in isolating and dealing with any imported cases. China even constructed 3 huge 5000 bed quarantine facilities to deal with all the air passengers arriving in country. Everyone is isolated, robots deliver meals and cameras in each room monitor body temperatures constantly to see if a person develops a fever. If they do, they are whisked away to a treament centre for a month or more.

The net result has been that mainland China has escaped many of the surges that have impacted the rest of the world and life for us has continued relatively normally. Schools are in person, we wear masks only on public transport and we can travel fairly easily. We meet, mingle and party while watching other countries struggling to cope. It is though a gilded cage, becuase although we can travel within the country and the city we cannot leave.

SInce Christmas, however the numbers of imported cases have been on the increase, particularly from chinese businessmen travelling back from Bangladesh and Pakistan and bringing cases with them (all of which were trapped at the airports). As a consequnce, we have been restricted to our cities and have not able to leave Shanghai. Shanghai is huge though, with a population of 23 million so it didn’t really feel as though we were grounded. Folks just coulnd’t fly to the beach resorts in Sanya for their Christmas holidays. We weren’t planning to do that anyway so we didnt really feel the pinch.

Vaccinations were happening and most of the population has two shots of either SinoPharm or SinoVac and in January boosters were offered to foreigners too. In all some 87% of the population is vaccinated.

This was all going along fine UNTIL the upsurge of cases in Hong Kong. We know that the increase there was due to the large numbers of elderly who had felt so safe that they didnt bother getting vaccinated. Even with that crisis, mainland China was still fairly unscathed. Then disaster struck. Even with the best laid plans and the most enormous quanantine processes they couldn’t guard against the virus getting out into the population. It happened here in Shanghai where many people flying in form Hong Kong were being held in quarantine. As well as the facilities they were using hotels. In one case it was an old hotel that was due to be repurposed but was taken over for quarantine use. There was an imported positive case identified but most unfortunately the ventilation system was faulty. Instead of containing the virus in the quarantine rooms, it blew it out. Quarantine facility workers became infected, took the virus home and voila! It was in the population. Being the insidious Omicrom varient most of the infected were asymptomatic and had no idea that they were infected.

China’s zero-tolerance policy is under pressure. For the last month cases have been mounting daily and as of today 69 cities have the infection. Shanghai is no exception. Currently the numbers are low in comparision with the west and most cases are not serious. The vast majority are asymptomatic, but given the size of the population and the fact that the 13% who are unvacinated are elderly or very young, they are in the vulnerable category and with a populatin of 1.4 billion. those numbers are so huge that they could swamp the local hospitals.

SO, they country is facing a crisis. The reponse of Shanghai has been interesting. The city has opted not to go into a massive city-wide lockdown interestingly, becuase of the impact not only on the local economy but on the global one. What they are doing instead in targets lockdowns in local areas of ‘hotspots’.

China has an incredible effective track and trace system. We all use mobile phone for pretty much everything and one app contains our health code. We have needed to present a green code from time to time to access various things such as an art gallery, theatre of big events.

You can see the brown button third one along. That has a syringe icon on and gives I for about out test results. It’s very handy, all in one place.

My negative results. It has to be translated for me!!!

If we were found to be a close contact of a positive person then our code would immediately change to red. If we were a close contact of a close contact the same happens. In addition residential componds have been placed under 14 day lockdowns if they have a close contact of a close contact and schools, shopping centres and office blocks have all been subjected to mass testing if there was even one person who was a close contact of a close contact.

This has put everyone on high alert. Several schools that we know of were tested and officials swooped in and kept all the children there until testing was completed, in some cases until 11pm. Some schools had this happen multiple times. The school next door to us, a Chinese school was locked in for 48 hours. Children has to sleep in their classrooms!. Concordia, fortunately escaped that although we had contingency plans in place and everyone was issued with a sleeping bag and blanket!

Two weeks ago all schools and Universities were told to go to Distance Learning. It was a surprise but we were better prepared than two years ago!! This time staff were permitting to work on campus at Concordia (this isnt the case in other schools) and faculty children could also come on campus and do their zooming supervised by teaching assistants. Most of us live very close to the school but PRC (local) staff who have to travel on public transport were asked to staf at home. My two library assistants could not come in to work so I have kept the library service going by myself.

The city used a grid system to mass test the population of 23 million. What that cost I dread to think! Last saturday we were all required to have a throat swab and the test results appeared on our health app within 24 hours (very efficient I must say). The rules change here with the wind, so for all of last week we had to present the negative test results to the guards in order to get on campus. This week we were all asked to do self adminsitered antigen tests. We were told at 9am to wait in for the tests to arrive, They came at 10pm!!! Nasal swabs this time and we again need to show the negative test results at the school gate to gain access.

The person power needed to make the mass testing happen was phenomenal. Whole armies of volunteers were recruited, equipped and trained. it was a sight to behold.

There has even been a case in the news of a 90 year old who has been volunteering!!!!

Being out in the suburbs we have been very fortunate to have been away from the hotpots. Friends have not been so fortunate. Some we know have been in 14 day lock downs, Others 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 … Its a very fluid situation. And they have been tested 5 times in two weeks!!!

Unlike the first mass lockdon some shops are closed, online deliveries are disrupted and some people have found it very difficult to get food. We have been lucky that our local shop has stayed open and so far there has been no panic buying of toilet rolls!

Now, in an effort to discourage movement around the city people are being required to show a negative test result current within 48 hours. Our Ayi cannot go to work unless she has a current test and she has to queue up for hours at a local testing centre or else she doesn’t earn her money. It’s a very difficult situation for some, especially in the cold weather.

Unlike the rest of the world who has moved on with the virus and accepted that it is now an endemic rather than a pandemic, China has a different approach. Even if a small percentage of this vast population gets very ill the health system would be swamped. While this is good in the big cities the same cannot the said for the rest of the country.

China is taking a very different approach to that of countries in the west. How sustainable it is remains to be seen. We will wait and see what happens next.

PS. Literally a couple of hours after posting this we heard that we will ALL go into a 4 day lockdown + testing from tomorrow morning.

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