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Embracing the new normal after the Covid-19 shutdown - notes from a Kerryman in China

Greg McDonough says life is returning to some semblance of normal for his family after the shutdown in China.

Greg McDonough

Greg McDonough, a Kerryman living in China, has been detailing the experience he, his wife and son have had in lockdown since Covid-19 emerged. This week, many of the social restrictions in China were lifted. Here, Greg offers some insight into what it’s been like and how he sees things playing out from here:

I HAVE JUST received a text from a western restaurant in Shanghai to say they are reopening. This week I went to a mall for the first time in ten weeks. The restaurants were open, well some of them, and most were operating as take-out or delivery.

This is the current state of play here in China after a significant Covid-19 shutdown. Every shop continues to operate a policy of social distancing, while the cinema remains closed. Things are returning to some sort of normal, but at a slow pace.

How is everyday life?

I would say everyone here is in the ‘cautiously optimistic’ zone, very much so. There is natural relief at being ‘free’ again. The feeling in the air is not one of fear but worry about reinfection.  

The numbers of Covid-19 cases are down, thankfully, but everyone accepts that it won’t go away. The questions being asking are: “Will it come back? Will it be as bad?” People fear the unknown. I think it will come back, but maybe it’ll be more manageable. 

For the most part, people continue to stay apart and there are grid lines everywhere to help them gauge how far to stand away from each other. There is still some fear and animosity towards strangers in neighbourhoods and small towns, from what I’m hearing, which will take some time to change.

Some new cases of the virus crop up in the area from time to time, though they are reportedly coming via returning Chinese students and ex-pats fleeing the epidemic overseas. The government is still very vigilant, especially with intercity travel. If there is a second wave they want to be able to contain it quickly. The restrictions are hardly necessary as the people’s own worries keep them apart anyway, and almost everyone still wears a mask.

GREG 2

I travelled by train recently, something I used to do frequently, and it was surreal. My last flight was before the coronavirus showed up, back in 2019. I flew roughly 25 times last year, but in the next 12 months, I plan to avoid air travel. International flights are almost non-existent here at the moment, and I can’t see that changing for some time.

Bearing that in mind, it is therefore beyond comprehension that New Yorkers are still free to fly to Ireland, despite that city having a serious number of coronavirus cases now. I don’t understand how flights are still incoming from anywhere right now, except for valid emergency reasons.

How we’re doing

My job as a lecturer will possibly restart in May. If not, it will be too late in the semester and we won’t return until September. Education is a necessity, as is medicine and food and social interaction, so it’s important that it does start back as soon as possible.

Many things will come back strong, I’m sure. Pubs in Shanghai are already open again, hospitals never close, of course, and some education has returned. But other things may not return to former glories.

A lot of jobs will be slow to come back, I feel. Hotels, restaurants and anything tourist-related face years in the doldrums here. International travel, as far as I can tell, is back to the stone ages. That’s why I feel strongly about inward travel to Ireland. If anyone asked my advice, I would say close the airports for a year and start becoming self-sufficient. This coronavirus will recede in the short-term, but the feeling here is that it will be around for a long time to come.

GREG 4

In China, as in many places, a huge appreciation for healthcare workers has grown, and rightly so. I believe we must repurpose our money paid in taxes away from the finance world to where it is needed. Double their salaries now and cut all corporate bonuses. I am not using the word double as a philosophical sop, I mean it – double everything for frontline workers. It would be heartening to see a reevaluation of our workforce after this. Maybe we could value those who make the greatest sacrifices, rather than those who generate profit?

What else is going to change?

As my family have been experiencing a shutdown for so long, I guess it affects how you see your ‘former reality’. We take so much of our normal lives for granted, so forgive me if my musings here those of a man blinking as he walks back into the sunlight, having lived in a cave. It makes you wonder what your future will look like. Here are some thoughts, from my perspective in China, at least:

I am an avid sports fan. In 1999 I saw the miracle of Barcelona having spent 40 hours on a bus to get to the Champions League final. As we now face the prospect of another global recession, I think professional sport is going to be on its knees. I do hope this doesn’t come to pass, but I can’t see otherwise.

In practical terms, I genuinely think our days of frivolous waste are about to grind to a halt. Apple may become a fruit once more, Amazon a river. Who wants to go to the cinema now? A music concert? No one will go as long as this virus persists and though we may beat it back, it’s not going away permanently until we find a vaccine. The latest timeframe I heard was 2022 before any vaccine is available to all.

GREG 8 McDonough's son has grown used to wearing masks. Source: Greg McDonough

Sports, cinema and live music are in serious jeopardy, I believe. At least we have the web and the magic of the virtual connection. I’m seeing so many great ways the internet is at least helping music and art shine through, but you have to wonder – if we stop doing these things for 18 months, will we want to start again?

Maybe we will go back to simpler things, to books, walks and conversations. At this stage, I’m wondering if that would be such a terrible thing?

I’ll be cheering Ireland on

Whenever I have written anything here about our experience, I have done so as the ‘Irish lad in the middle of a lockdown in China’, hoping to offer some insight into what it’s been like. I’ve had great messages of support from home, of sympathy from friends and family who were worried for us at such a difficult time. All that has been gratefully received, but now, Ireland, Europe is in a far worse state than China ever was.

I just don’t understand how this was allowed to happen? There seemed to be a collective denial in the west about the seriousness of this disease. Perhaps leaders were afraid to make strong decisions, following the example set by Trump? 

For now, we’ll do our best to navigate our new normal, albeit a normal that is a little more relaxed than our recent lockdown.

I do hope that none of the above will happen. I hope there will be no economic woes and house prices will soar. I am sometimes wrong. I hope I am.

Greg McDonough is an Irishman living in China with his wife and son. He’s a lecturer for Lancaster University.

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