COVID-19 (Continued)

At the beginning of this 2nd trip blog, I mentioned that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and that I had to be flexible with my plans. Well, that flexibility is being tested.

I’ve been visiting many companies in Shanghai, and they all end with the traditional group photo.

I was originally going to Hangzhou and then on to Beijing this weekend. I had planned to take a car from Shanghai to Hangzhou, have my meetings there, and then take the high-speed train from Hangzhou to Beijing. Despite most folks around me having the infamous popup #3, a health code warning that explains that they are blocked from entering Beijing, I was still fine. However, I was getting more and more alerts on Monday that restaurants in Beijing were going to take-out only. Once I began getting messages from friends, whom I was planning to meet in person, that they were leaving the city I really began to doubt whether I should go. The last straw for me was a message that the internet companies (Baidu, Bytedance, Kauishou, etc.) were going to a work-from-home regime and that I had to do a video conference call with them from my Beijing hotel room instead. At that point I had enough and cancelled my trip to Beijing.

This all happened on Monday evening. If the events leading up to this hadn’t been bad enough, on Tuesday morning I too got the dreaded popup #3. I was no longer allowed into Beijing, so whatever hope I still had of making it to Beijing disappeared. Why you get a popup #3 is a complete mystery and it appears random to everyone I asked. I got one on Tuesday and on Thursday it was gone, only to reappear on Saturday.

After more than a week in China, I too got the infamous popup #3 that prevents me from going to Beijing.

This still left me with a trip to Hangzhou to visit companies there (Alibaba and others). Hangzhou is a moderately large city about 100km from Shanghai. I was going to stay in a gorgeous hotel near Hangzhou’s famous West Lake and I was looking forward to that. Even though my schedule was busy in Hangzhou, I had planned to hike around the lake. However, on Wednesday evening the Shanghai government announced new COVID-19 control measures for folks entering the city that would go into effect 24-hours later: Everyone arriving in Shanghai would not be able to visit public places such as restaurants, bars, movie theatres, etc. for the first 5 days after their arrival.

The new Shanghai entry regulations: No public places for the first 5-days and regular testing. Most cities have something similar which makes travel very complicated.

That announcement pretty much sealed it for me and I decided not to go to Hangzhou and stay put in Shanghai. Since I’m a visitor, I pretty much rely on public services such as restaurants for business dinners and meeting people, so a 5-day moratorium would really eat into my quality time here in China. It’s unfortunate because I was looking forward to visiting Beijing, Shenzhen and possibly even Chendu, but I’ll have to save that for a next time. I did decide to reduce my trip by one week so that leaves 10 more days which the local team has already packed with plenty of new meetings. They really enjoy having an engineering executive visit after 3-years, so while this trip isn’t what I had originally in mind, it has still been worthwhile.

I’ve been getting more and more inquiries from folks in Europe and the USA about the situation in China. Especially now that videos have been leaking of protests against the COVID-19 control measures across China. These pop-up protests typically happen in the smaller cities, but everyone is worried and afraid. It is the topic of almost every conversation in every in-person meeting I have. An interesting phenomenon that I’ve noticed, is that people are live streaming these protests on WeChat. Of course, the censors are shutting down these streams as soon as they can but there are so many of them that they cannot keep up. So, when strolling through the Wechat live stream catalog you are bound to hit on a few of them.

The total number of COVID-19 infections in China is higher that’s it’s ever been, and the infection rates are rising. One of the rumors I heard at an expat Thanksgiving party was that the (local?) government had decided to let it [COVID-19] rip and get it over with. If that is true, and who knows there are so many false rumors going around, then China is in for a brutal 4 months.

It is clear something needs to happen. Chinese people are fed up with the COVID-19 control measures, they see the rest of the world without facemasks (especially with the soccer world championship which is big here), and their economy is tanking. It’s quite telling that Alibaba didn’t report its earnings after their Singles day on 11/11. This is one of China’s biggest sales events, like Black Friday in the USA, and Alibaba always proudly presents its year-to-year increased sales numbers at the end of the day. That they didn’t do that this year is quite telling, The Singles day sales numbers are good indicator for the Chinese economy. Again, the rumors are rampant, and I’ve been told by different sources that this year’s numbers are down by anywhere from 60% to 1% compared to last year and that the Chinese government blocked Alibaba from publishing their numbers. If you add to this the complaints from friends that many companies closed their shops and that even entire malls are closed, it is clear something needs to change soon.

Shanghai is still as vibrant as ever, but its economy is feeling the impact of anti-COVID-19 measures.

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