Life in China during the Great Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020

I live in Guangzhou, and I’m right here right now. I’m on social media everyday. I read the MSM everyday. And, I read about worry, fear, anxiety, and angst around the novel coronavirus 2019 — why can’t we just call it the Wuhan flu? That’s just the CNN effect, folks. They don’t know what’s really happening. Neither do I, but here’s my perspective on it anyway!

I’d thought I report on what the conditions are like here in Guangdong province for my family, neighbors, work mates, and neighborhood. First let’s have a look at the situation as of this posting. I use several sources of information: the John Hopkins visualization tool, the World Health Organization situation reports, and the Centers for Disease Control situation reports.

The John Hopkins University Visualization Tool

They give you this pretty cool overview page. The map is completely scrollable and resizable. They update it as information becomes available, so it stays current. I’m never sure whether it will auto-update, so I refresh every time I re-visit the tab. It stays open all day.

I notice several things immediately:

  • The number of confirmed cases. Remember, it is much higher than that. There are always cases that never come to the attention of the authorities for what ever reason.
  • The number of deaths.
  • The number recovered. I always like to note that the number recovered is greater than the number dead. It is totally meaningless, but I find it comforting.

You have to look a little closer for these details:

  • By clicking on the red dot, you get some information about the province. For example, most of the infections are still in Hubei, the province of Wuhan, 27,100. That’s like most of them. The province I live in, Guangdong, has consistently been second or third in the number of cases, and currently is at 1,120.
  • Singapore is the country with the most infections outside of China, 60.
  • And the graph of confirmed cases is rising at a linear pace, not an exponential one in China and is conspicuously flat outside of China. Of course, the flatness of that line has to do with perspective.

If we take a look at the graph, we find a couple more interesting things:

  • For the past week, confirmed cases has increased by about 3,500 per day (3,200 – 4,000).
  • The previous week, the daily increase was between 1,500 and 3,000 per day.

What we’re seeing is the result of the Chinese travel for Lunar New Year. The new moon that marked the beginning of the new lunar year was on Friday 24 January. People began traveling towards their ancestral homes that week. They often are away for a week or more. Many people left Wuhan sick, but without realizing they were sick. At least, that’s the theory.

If it were true, you’d be seeing increases in infections outside of Hubei and Wuhan right now. Tom Frieden — whatever you think of his #MeToo sins, he knows his epidemiology — wrote at CNN that 41% of the first 138 people diagnosed with the Wuhan flu were infected in the hospital where they were being treated. It wasn’t even localized to an area of the hospital where contaminated instruments and surfaces might have caused it.

Frieden says that is alarming because it suggests that this flu may be easily spread. On the other hand 70% of the confirmed cases are in the Hubei province. The jump in the number of confirmed cases per day suggests that there is increased exposure, but it isn’t showing up as much outside of Hubei. This could mean that the attempts at containment are succeeding.

Frieden also points out that there are holes in the numbers coming out of China: No children have been reported as infected. We do not know the breakdown of infection by ages or gender. His point and my point is that we don’t know. If it is going to break out of Hubei, though it will be in the next two weeks.

Life in Guangzhou

Coronavirus, Empty street, BaiYun, Guangzhou, Chinese New Year
An empty street in BaiYun, Guangzhou

Guangzhou is a city of 13 million in a greater metropolitan area of 40 million. It is big and densely populated. There is never any place in the city where you are alone.

The streets of BaiYun are like a ghost town. Where there were once thousands of cars and people there are maybe a dozen or so. It is desolate. It is like the beginning of all those zombie apocalypse movies that the kids are all watching these days.

The government is recommending that we all stay home. Literally. In the literal sense of the word literally, too. Most businesses have been closed for the past two weeks. If you’re outside of your apartment, you have to have a mask on or be subject to fine. You are not allowed on the subway or buses without one. I used to think that it was okay to be without a mask inside the apartment compound, but I was wrong. I was chastised soundly for not having one.

The pharmacist does all his business through the door. You can’t go in.

Everyone pretty much lives in a large apartment compound. I mean the compound is large, not the apartment. You find the usual range of sizing and pricing. Think fifty thirty-story buildings grouped together. There will be shops and other services available within the compound. I went to the small grocery store the other day, they took my temperature at the door.

If you leave the apartment complex, the guard will take your temperature when you return. They don’t allow deliveries or non-residents in. Everything is delivered in China, so it is a real hardship to go and meet your grocery delivery at the gate and haul it up to your apartment. All water is bottled, but deliveries are suspended so you’ve got to go to a store, buy your water, and haul it home, too. There’s a reason that Internet shopping is so popular. Delivery makes life easy.

Schools are now closed through 2 March. Many businesses will open on 9 February. The border with Hong Kong is closed. Food is somewhat scarce. I don’t think anyone is in danger of starving because of it, but the shelves at the stores are noticeably understocked, and when a shipment comes in, you wanna be there.

Necessity is the mother of all invention

Masks are in short supply. One of the chief topics of conversation on social media is where can I get a mask. Not that masks are particularly helpful outside of a hospital. The main thing the mask does is keep you from touching your nose and mouth with your dirty fingers. Washing your hands and avoiding contact with sick people is your best bet.

We stay home a lot. Luckily, I have a Kindle, the wife loves board games, there’s Netflix, and the PS4, and US politics is as batshit crazy as it has ever been. But, most importantly, the government does not seem to be cracking down on VPNs like they have in the past. If they had cut us off from the Internet, we would have a bad case of cabin fever instead of just cabin fever.

Being maskless on the street means being subject to a fine.

Chinese friends on social media keep publishing very patriotic and hopeful statements. The equivalent of saying Wuhan Strong or something. I’ll give a sampling as translated from the Chinese by WeChat translation:

  • For the motherland and Wuhan refueling fight the new virus.
  • Rally around the CPC Central Committee with the General Secretary at its core. Adhere to confidence in theory, the path, culture, and system. Hold high the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, secure a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society, and bring about the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
  • Can do is, do not go out, do not add chaos, may spring early, branches full of spring, mountains and rivers unharmed, the world is safe!
  • God bless Hubei. God bless China.

Here’s hoping for an early spring and that the virus doesn’t like warm weather.

13 replies »

  1. Good luck avoiding the virus. It is hard, even impossible, to imagine the US responding to such an outbreak as China has. Shoot, we can’t even get everybody to get a Flu shot. With that 14 day incubation time, this thing is going to spread far and wide, especially if it gets a foothold in some of the high-poverty mega cities in Africa and Latin America and South Asia. Take care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!

      Given what’s happening on the various cruise ships, it seems especially contagious in close quarters. Should it get loose some place that’s really densely populated — New Delhi, for example — it could really get bad. Amazingly, it’s not found its way to Africa, yet. Thankfully.

      Most of what the Chinese are doing — restricting movement and the mandatory wearing of masks — is ineffective. Hand washing and the flue shot are probably more effective, even though the flu vaccine isn’t protective from the Wuhan flu.

      I remember back in SARS, I think it was, a couple got married and were exposed to the virus. The CDC restricted their travel, but they went to Italy for their honeymoon anyway. The media plastered their pictures all over the place. They went on the lame for a few weeks in Europe and then were pissed when people were mad at them for having traveled against advice. Do you remember that?

      All of our mavericky independent tough American types would never let the gob’ment tell them what to do like wear a mask or restrict their travel. We’ve got a right to get sick, die, and spread disease, dammit! It’s unalienable which means we can do it, but immigrants, can’t, right?


      Liked by 1 person

      • In some of the mega-cities of the Global South, with that 14 day contagious incubation period (I saw a possibly untrustworthy report yesterday that it may be not 14, but 24 days) they wouldn’t even know it had arrived before very large numbers were infected.

        Us rugged individuals in Merica would rather panic and burn down their local China Town than comply with restrictions. After all, that’s why we have the Second Amendment.

        Liked by 1 person

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