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Dublin: 12°C Wednesday 28 July 2021

Letter from China: Life is back to normal after Covid-19, but under strict conditions

Greg McDonough, an Irishman living in China gives an account of ‘normal’ life after lockdown, where tough but fair measures are now in place.

Greg McDonough

HELLO AGAIN FROM China. I thought I’d give you an update as the word was spreading that China was back to normal, and I can confirm that that’s pretty much the case.

I work in a place called Weihai teaching for a British university, Lancaster, and am now in my second week back in the classroom after eight months out. I live five minutes off-campus, and when I ride through the gates each morning my temperature is scanned and once it’s ok, life inside is pretty much as it was last year.

There are no masks in the classroom, but there is sanitiser everywhere for hand cleansing.

The same, but different

The students sit in groups, face to face and do their work as normal, exactly as they did before, but they are confined to campus for the first two weeks. The semester has been shortened from 17 weeks to 15 as people are concerned there might be the flu coming in winter which would be very worrying, as the systems present a lot like Covid.

My wife and son live in another city and I usually fly there on Fridays, coming back on Monday. I teach from Tuesday to Friday morning.

My three-year-old son has started Kindergarten and is flying it, my wife is also back on campus in our home town of Hefei. Cinemas are open, and I’ll be off to the pub on Friday night, which I’m very much looking forward to.

When pubs first opened you needed to use the app but now it’s as before. You walk in, sit where you like with whomever you like, stay as long as you like. The only thing that is still off-limits is large scale gatherings, like football matches and concerts, but cinemas, restaurants, malls, zoos, (where we took my son last weekend), hotels etc., are back in full swing.

We went to Shanghai a few weeks ago and all the measures that had been in place were gone, it was like Covid had never happened. There was a little spike a couple of months back in Beijing which saw up to 250 cases a day, which is nothing when you consider the population.

greg aquarium Normal service has resumed at zoos, aquariums, cinemas, etc. Source: Greg McDonough

Those clusters were shut down because absolutely everyone was traceable, because of the app. I’m not sure what the app usage currently is in Ireland but believe me, it works here.

A different kind of Covid app

We have the Covid tracking app which is in universal use in China, and as long as your QR code is green you are good to go.

How do I keep the app green? Well, this is interesting, and some would believe possibly scary bit, but it works so no one is complaining. The app is scanned in various places like malls and bus stations. I believe it also links in with apps like WeChat or Alipay.

In layman’s terms, it then makes a huge cross-reference grid in cyberspace and if you’ve shared space with someone who turned out to be a carrier it goes red and you must get tested.

For example, I was flying this week and if anyone on either of those two flights or was near me in the airport turned out to be infected with Covid, the system would turn my code red.

It’s a tougher regime here compared to home, of course. There is zero tolerance for any irresponsible spread of the virus. My wife was in a car park recently and saw a man being apprehended and whisked off because he had been in contact with a positive case.

I know it is an intrusion on privacy, but really, if you have any mobile phone app then large tech companies know your every move anyway – this is just an extension of that.

China’s quarantine

We currently have two international teachers in China rather than the normal 40 or so as when Covid-19 came it was the winter holiday and all our colleagues went home except me and another.

Until recently there was no chance for others to fly back, but now the doors are creaking open and you can return if you quarantine for two weeks. I went to Weihai in June for a graduation ceremony, was taken to a hotel, had a test the next morning, got a clear result and was then free.

I do know one Irish man in Shanghai right now who was picked up at the airport and brought directly to a quarantine hotel. He cannot leave the room for two weeks. Two days in quarantine was not fun for me, but I have real sympathy for my friend. The food comes from the government and looks barely edible, but the room is decent. Obviously, every country around the world has its own system in place, but China’s is a tough approach.

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I’ve done a few articles and interviews with Irish media over the months and my mantra has always been to just focus, ‘lock hard’ and follow the science. In Ireland, most people seem to have complied with the guidance.

Some didn’t, I see. I was deeply disappointed to see a group of people marching against masks in Dublin. It made my stomach turn, to be honest.

It really is simple -  wear the mask if you don’t have a medical condition that prevents you from doing so. If the science is right, you save lives, if it is wrong, well you’ve endured a very mild irritation.

Covid-19 started here, it came later to the US, but per capita, America is 400 times worse off. China is not perfect, mistakes were made, but overall the response has been a massive success, as in New Zealand and a few other countries.

We have been able to do things Ireland is still only dreaming of, because of the hard lockdown. Maybe the vaccine will come or else it may be another full lockdown, who knows. I do worry that really, it only takes a few to mess it up again. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

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Greg McDonough

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