My life inside China’s coronavirus quarantine
Marta Mariño Cisa, a mobile games tester from Spain, lives in Suzhou, eastern China, with her husband and infant son. Here she tells NADJA what life inside the quarantine has been like, and why she thinks Western media coverage of the outbreak is contributing to racially-motivated attacks.
I realised the new coronavirus that was going around China was going to affect my daily life when a friend cancelled our playdate. It was January 23rd, the first day of my holidays. I had not seen this friend in a long time and we were supposed to bring our children to the playground and have lunch together. When I was about to leave our apartment, my friend texted: “There is a case of the coronavirus in Suzhou. My husband says it’s better to stay home”. That was also the day the Wuhan lockdown started. Wuhan is 800 km away from Suzhou, the city I live in.
It’s the beginning of March now and I still haven’t met my friend. I’ve spent the last month and a half cooped up at home. The first ten days were the worst because it was the Chinese New Year holidays. I work from home and barely go out during the week, so I was really looking forward to seeing my friends, visiting new places, and just spending some time outside in general. So, when the outbreak started and it was apparent that we would have to spend the holidays at home, I was angry. But what could I do?
During those ten days, I left the house three times: two to the supermarket and one to visit my husband’s grandma. Going out was not forbidden or restricted, but it was recommended to limit outings to the strictly necessary and everybody followed suit. To encourage people to stay home, all the Chinese New Year celebrations were cancelled and places like tourist attractions, museums, cinemas and malls were closed. Supermarkets remained open and well stocked; I never saw empty shelves here. Pharmacies were also open but face masks and rubbing alcohol were often out of stock (we managed to buy them after a few days). Residential areas and public transportation introduced measures to try to avoid the spread of the virus, like forbidding the entrance of non-residents to residential complexes and requiring everybody to wear a mask on the subway or bus.
These measures evolved with time and the latest one is an app on your phone in which you input your personal data and answer some questions regarding your health and whereabouts during the past two weeks. Depending on your answers, you get a QR code in green, yellow or red. A green code allows you freedom of movement; if you have a yellow or red code you have to quarantine yourself and seek medical assistance.
I have a son who is now 18 months old and I was worried about him during our confinement. Children are supposed to spend time outside every day! The first days were difficult while he adjusted; he was more restless than usual and had difficulty falling asleep. Then he got used to the new situation. We kept him busy playing, reading books and also watching cartoons on TV. Our storage room upstairs became his new “outside”, as it was a change of scenery from the living room and there was more space to run.
We adults passed the time reading the news, on social media and checking the latest coronavirus figures. I regularly read Spanish and British newspapers and got the feeling they were only focusing on the bad news. For example, there were daily articles which mentioned several times the number of casualties, but the number of recovered patients was nowhere to be seen. This led to many people abroad believing that in China we were experiencing some kind of zombie apocalypse and that catching the virus was a death sentence. There might also have been reports about shortages, because several of my friends back home offered to send me packages with food and face masks, which I assured them I didn’t need. In my opinion, the panic created by many Western media outlets is one of the reasons behind the racist attacks towards Asian people that we’ve been hearing about, and has also contributed to the current situation in Europe, where friends in Spain, Italy and Germany have told me of panic-buying and the hoarding of food and masks.
The strict measures that China has taken to contain the virus have been criticised by some, and have personally encumbered me and my family, but I honestly cannot think of any other way to stop its spread. The virus has been shown to be very contagious, with cases of people who were infected in a few seconds while buying vegetables or riding an elevator, so the best course of action seems to be to avoid all unnecessary contact. This is not only to protect yourself (if you are young and healthy, chances are you would only develop mild symptoms) but also to protect others who would be at a greater risk.
Here in Suzhou it finally looks like we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, as we haven’t had any new infections for over two weeks. However, schools and universities are still closed and students are receiving online lessons until a reopening date is decided. Many stores and restaurants are not yet back in business and many factories are not working at full capacity because they lack workers, as many jobs are done by rural immigrants who are not back in the city yet. Office workers were able to work from home at the beginning of the outbreak and started going back to their workplaces in the second half of February.
Now that the virus has spread to most countries, I wonder what measures their governments will take. I doubt they will be as radical as here, as for a democratically elected government these measures would be extremely unpopular. In my home country, Spain, there are several big festivities coming up (Fallas festival in Valencia, Easter processions everywhere, Feria in Seville) which will be the perfect environment for the virus to spread even more. China took drastic measures and its economy has suffered great losses because of it, but they have proved to be effective and new infections and casualties have greatly decreased. Will other countries learn from China’s mistakes and successes?
Read Marta’s blog Marta lives in China
More by Marta: China’s Leftover Women