A personal account of life in China during COVID-19 and how we’ve reached the new normal
Over a few short months, COVID-19 has evolved from an obscure virus to a full-blown global pandemic that has now spread to every continent, with the exception of Antarctica. Citizens around the world are falling into panic mode as governments sound alarms to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Meanwhile, in China, the epidemic is coming to a close with the rate of new cases steadily dropping from the thousands to just 27 new cases today.
Life has all but reached a new normal here — masks remain on everyone’s faces but the fear associated with the virus has died down significantly. I have been in Shenzhen, China, since mid-January, and this is my account of the rise and fall of public panic in China during the coronavirus epidemic.
It is now well-known that Chinese officials in Wuhan tried to cover up information related to COVID-19 in the early days of its spread, leaving most citizens unaware of the seriousness of the disease and utterly unprepared for its impact.
It wasn’t until the night of January 20, when a prominent Chinese respiratory expert confirmed on state television that there were reported cases of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus that public panic started to spread.
Face masks swiftly disappeared from the shelves of pharmacies the next day with supplies coming in at a much slower rate. Even so, it was hard to override the festival spirit as the biggest holiday and family gathering event of the year in China, Lunar New Year, was just around the corner.
The supermarkets in town were crowded with people stocking up on food supplies for the festivities, and many were still willing to brave the risk of traveling via trains and planes to follow through with their holiday plans.
Repeatedly, I had to remind myself that behind these numbers were individuals and families whose lives were permanently altered by this disease.
On January 23, the city of Wuhan shut its gates with minimal prior notice — thus escalating panic levels across the nation. Several other cities in the Hubei province soon followed suit, and most are still on lockdown as of now.
Many who managed to leave their locality before the lockdown began were accused by outsiders of deliberately trying to spread the virus. Truth be told, xenophobia related to coronavirus first spread within China before it spread globally.