Beijing, China – It’s 3:30 pm and I’m doing my best to stay calm. My husband was hurling a suitcase, brand-new car seat and a bag of snacks into the back of the taxi while I struggled to buckle my seatbelt on my pregnant belly.
The contractions are coming thick and fast. My baby has decided to be born two weeks ahead of schedule.
Closing my eyes, I heard my husband’s seat belt “click”.
“Drive fast!” he shouted in nervous Chinese.
The driver knew our destination, a hospital 20 minutes away, but wouldn’t budge. “Why jiankangbao!” or “Scan Health Code!” he is irritable.
Angered, my husband quickly took out his phone, opened the Beijing Health App, and scanned the QR code taped to the back of the driver’s seat. “So is hers!” shouted the driver. If I hadn’t focused so much on controlling my heaving moans, I would’ve burst out laughing. I don’t know where my phone is.
My husband was furious, shouting: “She’s going to give birth, can’t you see?!?”
“Scan the health code first,” was the sternly expressionless reply.
It’s funnier now than that June afternoon. We finally made it to the hospital and after further testing for COVID-19 upon arrival, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy just two hours later.
of China no-COVID policy based on the principle that one infection is one infection too much. It not only created a bubble around China, isolating it from the rest of the world, but also added layers of regulations and restrictions on the lives of the 1.4 billion people who live here. . And while my medical emergency had a happy ending, the effects of this policy have been devastating and even fatal for many others.
I started covering this “mysterious flu-like illness” in January 2020 when it first spread from Wuhan. Since then, there have been countless stories of people in emergency situations, children, pregnant women, the elderly, etc. unable to access care because they did not have negative nucleic acid test results. recently counted.
Millions of others have gone hungry, lost their livelihoods and suffered a decline in mental health as a result of the widespread lockdown.
Last month, 10 people living in the city of Urumqi, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province, including three Uighur children, died in a residential fire – a tragedy believed to be due to the corona virus blockade that blocked the exits and made it inaccessible to firefighters. sites in time. The tragedy sparked a wave of skepticism and anger. How can a policy designed to protect people be responsible for such needless deaths? Enough is enough.
This was followed by a series of protests in several cities across the country, the most serious acts of public defiance China has seen since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.” We want freedom, not COVID testing!” is a common cry. Some brave people have even demanded that Chinese President Xi Jinping step down, a call that could easily land them in jail or worse. A blank A4 sheet of paper has become a symbol of solidarity, mourning and criticism of government censorship.
I was shocked to see it all unfold and even more shocked to see so many contacts posted messages of support for the protests on Chinese social media. Will the obscure and seemingly immobile Communist Party listen? Chinese people Police nationwide quickly act to suppress and prevent further large-scale protests and social media was quickly deleted. That seems to have answered the question and we move on with our lives. In Beijing, that means staying at home, only getting tested for COVID every few days.
At the time, much of the city was under “soft shutdown” to control another outbreak of Omicron. Restaurants are closed for dining, non-essential businesses are closed, and people are working from home. The capital of the world’s most populous country is a ghost town (a common occurrence since 2020).
But as I write this, a week later, I am shocked again. This time by the government.
Strict China COVID-19 policy is being eased – or, in their words, “optimized”.
They announced some important changes: COVID-19 positive cases and close contacts will no longer be forced to quarantine at government facilities and will no longer need test results when traveling within the country or entering a supermarket, mall, office building or park.
If a blockade order is imposed, it cannot be extended to entire neighborhoods, it must be targeted and lifted as soon as possible.
All these changes will be implemented when up to 10,000 infections are recorded per day. China has finally surrendered to live with the virus.
For almost three years, our mobile health app has been our passport to venturing out of the house.
We take it out to scan the code at every entrance to a building or store. “Lucky ghost! He is suan yi tian!” it emits a clear sound to alert the security guard about your health condition. “Code Green! Covid testing completed a day ago! Scanning means your location and identity are also recorded so authorities know who you are and where to find you.
For almost three years, we were dumbfounded when we saw the dreaded “Da Bai” or “Big White,” the unpopular nickname given to people who wore head-to-toe in white medical suits and goggles. . Their presence means that someone nearby will be dragged to a central isolation facility (usually sparse and unsanitary places) where they won’t feel the sun on their skin for days, or many weeks.
For almost three years, we’ve gotten used to waiting in long lines for tests, stocking up on enough food for weeks in the freezer, stopping unnecessary travel, and dreading the flu and cold for buying any kind of food. Any antipyretics are restricted (the reason everyone wants to take Ibuprofen is obviously trying to hide their COVID-19 infection from the authorities).
So how do we feel now that this repressive system is finally coming to an end? Excitement and relief. We even dared to dream of being able to fly and visit family abroad without fuss or quarantine (which has so far been impossible).
But besides that, there was a lot of confusion, chaos and anxiety. People are panic buying drugs and Rapid Antigen Tests. Social media chat groups are flooded with questions. The mRNA vaccine, which has been shown to be more effective than the Chinese-made vaccine, is not here. Millions of people feel completely unprepared to be exposed to coronavirus for the first time in their lives. We all hope China’s health system works better, otherwise dark days may lie ahead.
And unlike the international headlines imply, everyday life has not changed significantly.
We still need a negative COVID-19 test to gain access to restaurants, entertainment venues, gyms, and hospitals, so this three-weekly process will continue.
The only difference is that I’ll be walking to the local test site a bit lighter; grateful that China has finally joined the world in accepting this pandemic new normal and knowing that a mobile phone app now has less power over my life.