About one month ago, the COVID-19 delta variant escaped from Nanjing airport into the wild. Apparently, the cleaning crew of an airplane from Russia didn’t handle the security procedures correctly and got infected. This highly contagious variant spread around like wildfire to Nanjing, Shanghai, Beijing, Yangzhou, Wuhan and even a resort town in southern china. Eventually it penetrated 17 provinces and 50 cities.
One month later there is almost no domestic infestation of the Delta variant left. There are still some infections in the border areas, but those are not related to the Nanjing escape and well contained. So how did China do this?
A big part of it is the action that the national and regional governments took, but that’s not the only thing. The people themselves were panicked too and as a result very cautious. For example, when I got stuck with a * behind the Beijing location on my travel code, hotels cancelled my reservations and a private family where I was going to have a local dinner didn’t feel comfortable hosting me anymore. I’ve seen similar things in Beijing. When Beijing was in COVID-19 war-mode, the subway, malls, and restaurants were much less crowded. Clearly folks were staying home. With facemask you saw the same. A month ago, folks were getting lax with face masks, when the war-mode went into effect everyone immediately abided to the face mask rule, even when just walking on the street.
Of course, the most impactful were the official measures. Beijing reinstated temperature entrance checks everywhere: subway, work, malls, hotels, restaurants, etc. It also enforced location tracking. Everywhere you go you have to scan a QR code identifying where you have been. You need to do this when you enter a taxi or a Didi, when you enter your work, when you enter a mall, and even when you enter a restaurant in that mall. There is no exception. To leave and enter Beijing you need to have a COVID-19 test, even if your health and travel codes are green.
For some restaurants in Beijing, especially the ones frequented by foreigners, you now have to show your vaccination status before you are allowed to enter. If you got your vaccine in China, it shows up in your health code but for those who have been vaccinated overseas it is not entirely clear how this works. I haven’t tried any of these restaurants yet since they put that rule into effect. I will have a go this weekend because I’m kind curious how they handle foreign vaccination cards.
Other provinces, like Yunnan, enforced a no out-of-state tourist guideline during this out break. This happened while I was there and I was allowed to continue until I too was hit with the dreaded * on my travel code for Beijing. Does this mean you are completely stuck? No, but it does mean you need to get a COVID-19 test ASAP in order to continue. I’ve heard that some provinces require you to take a COVID-19 test every two days until the star disappears from your travel code (locations are only kept for the last 14-days). Of course, these rules vary per region and per company. For example, my apartment complex warned me that if I had a * behind any other city name than Beijing, then I could no longer stay there per their company policy.
Of course, once they detect a COVID-19 case the measures are draconian. Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with this, but if someone gets diagnosed on your block, the entire block is immediately quarantined. Folks who have been indirectly exposed, need to self-quarantine and report themselves. Not that you have much choice, your health code immediately goes yellow, and you can’t get anywhere anymore.
So how many cases did we have in Beijing? For one day we have 6 new cases in a single day, but most of the time the people infected were 2, 1 or 0 per day. These are case counts, not percentages as someone from the US asked me during a call. On a city population of 25 million that is insignificant, but as I said before: Folks in China do understand the power of exponentials and they try to squash any outbreak as soon as they can and as hard as they can.
On Monday August 23rd, Beijing declared itself COVID-19 free and it dropped the * behind its name on the travel code. That means I’m a free man again and I can travel around the country. I have to be careful and avoid contaminated places because then I risk getting stuck again. For example, Shanghai is still considered a high-risk place and it has a * behind its name so for the time being I will not be travelling to Shanghai.
Some Chinese folks feel that the local government is too heavy handed and should be more relaxed about it. My perspective is a little bit different, especially after having lived through the COVID-19 mess in the USA, which is on the other end of the spectrum of how to deal with COVID-19. I kind of prefer the Chinese way. It’s a brief inconvenience but the pay off is that things are back to normal quickly.
Let’s hope there isn’t a new flare up anytime soon …