Indications over the past several days are hopeful and help to confirm China is indeed nearing the light at the end of the tunnel in the battle against the virus. Having been holed up for so long, more and more people are out and about in their communities. Activity had been incrementally creeping back up the past few weeks, but with the arrival of the Qingming ‘Tomb Sweeping’ holiday weekend many took advantage of the wonderful Spring atmosphere outdoors. Even so, the measures that have been effective in slowing the spread all this time are still widespread. This near return to normalcy is buttressed by the messaging by officials and actions of the government in a few ways.
Mourning the Losses
The Qingming “tomb-sweeping” Holiday occurs every Spring on either April 4, 5, or 6. The holiday has early origins and is deeply rooted in the culture and history. Its purpose has been to honor ancestors by visiting tombs and grave-sites to pray, tidy the area, and make offerings. While practiced for over 2500 years, the modern iteration only became an official public holiday in 2008. Every year it is a long weekend, with most work and school being off on the Friday and following Monday. It’s more common for elder generations to practice some rituals if at all, most of the younger generations seem to use the time for leisure. To be fair, mostly everybody is eager for leisure since the holiday arrives during a time when the Spring weather is just about at its most enjoyable. This is especially so in Beijing it seems.
Approaching this holiday, the word was that soon the Wuhan lockdown would be ended. Not long before that, most of the other areas under travel restrictions were lifted. That meant Natalie’s sister and her boyfriend could finally leave the Hubei countryside and return to their provinces. On the eve of the Qingming weekend, a messaging campaign was underway to make the holiday this year partially about mourning the losses and sacrifices during the pandemic. It wasn’t ‘declaring victory’ or an ending to it all, but it was an effort to perhaps inspire some reflection. Rightly or wrongly, the way that happened comes off as perhaps intrusive to Western sensibilities but it’s just how things go here.
Video Games Interrupted
That evening when Natalie opened her Ipad PUBG mobile shooting game app she saw this message.
Essentially, it was informing everybody that for the 24 hour period during the holiday that all the online video game services would be shut down. This included her treasured shooting game along with every other game on the Tencent platform. Seeing as online gaming undoubtedly saw a massive boom during the quarantine period, I can’t imagine it was that harsh of a sacrifice.
The Moment of (not-so) Silence
That evening I also saw an article in my foreigner apps about how at 10am there would be a nationwide moment of silence for 3 minutes. Not really silence though, because air raid sirens and horns of vehicles would be blaring. Sure enough we awoke to the cacophony erupting outside and around our apartment community. This is a relatively commonplace symbolic action they like in mourning or honoring something. The times I’ve noticed it were on the anniversaries of the Japanese invasion beginning during WWII.
Social Media and Apps
On all my friends’ Wechat moments (basically like a facebook/twitter feed among private contacts) were posts similar to the one below. Or, at least a simple candle emoji.
We also noticed different behavior on some of our apps. On the grocery delivery service app everything was in gray on the home screen.
Four days later on April 8, the Wuhan lock-down ended. This I count as the first tangible action indicating that things here really have rounded the corner and we’ll likely soon be back to normalcy. Personally, I know it won’t happen for me and my school until after the end of April. Schools will be among the last to return, and that’s just fine by me.
Guard Still Up
More people are out and about, back at work, socializing outside, enjoying meals at restaurants, and so on. However, all of the same interventions and use of personal protective equipment I’ve outlined in my prior posts are still going strong. My apartment community is still inaccessible to outsiders and delivery people. Masks are being worn 100% whenever stepping out the door of your home. Temperature checks at key places. Many other things beyond those.
A new development for us to witness was inside the Didi (their Uber) cabs. This wasn’t implemented back when I took a ride back in January. Having never left our immediate area we never saw when this started. Now a sealed clear plastic barrier was up and separating the driver area. The regular taxi cabs mostly already have a permanent hard plastic/windowed barrier. Taped to the plastic are notices reminding passengers of PPE uses and precautions. Frankly, this is one development I would advocate keeping even once normalcy returns.
We had to run an errand that day and enter a small office building. To do so we both had to scan QR codes to show the entrance guard the both of us had been in Beijing for 14+ days. This was the same as what Natalie had seen at the office building she visited before. I snapped a screenshot. It basically says that on this day for the past 14 days this phone user has been in Beijing.
On another day I made a quick trip to a small supermarket nearby us. Normally the door people were ready with a temperature gun for checking. However, at some point this contraption was installed to scan for the temperature. Seeing it at a shop that really isn’t that large was somewhat surprising.
Now that the US and many other Western countries have mostly settled into their various pandemic responses, I hope that seeing other countries beginning to exit their own ordeal provides encouragement. Whenever and however that end arrives in your location, keep patient and vigilant about protection. It is okay for those measures to keep up perhaps longer than necessary, even if it seems like overkill. Letting our guard down too early to this threat could have terrible consequences, especially after having fought it for so long.