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China and Covid19

Chinese Covid Vocabulary 4.0: Shanghai’s ‘Bubble-Style Management’

From closed-loop to semi-closed to bubble-style to point-based, Shanghai’s Covid vocabulary is becoming confusing.

Manya Koetse

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As Shanghai has introduced new terms to describe epidemic prevention measures during this first stage of Shanghai’s gradual reopening, netizens are getting confused about China’s new Covid lexicon.

On a May 19 press conference, deputy mayor Zhang Wei (张为) announced that more businesses in Shanghai will be allowed to reopen in stages in the coming month amid a declining number of new Covid-19 infections in the city. Four metro lines have opened, more bus routes are resuming operations, and trains will start running for limited hours. But the gradual reopening of Shanghai is far from the old ‘normal’; there will still be many restrictions and regulations for the city’s 26 million inhabitants as part of the zero-Covid strategy.

Zhang Wei during the press conference.

Regarding public transportation, all passengers must have a new negative nucleic acid test result (taken within 48 hours), masks will be mandatory, they will need a ‘green’ health QR code, and smart inspection devices will monitor body temperature at bus and metro stations (temperatures must be below 37,3 degrees).

As for companies, they will operate within a so-called ‘closed-loop’ or ‘semi-closed-loop’ system for this first phase of the city’s gradual reopening. Zhang Wei also introduced the terms ‘point-based work resumption’ (点式复工) and ‘bubble-style management’ (气泡式管理) to describe how some enterprises will be pushed to resume work and production processes until at least early June.

News report in which the two terms are mentioned.

Both of these terms were discussed on Chinese social media as new words added to the Covid-related vocabulary since Wuhan 2020. After the introduction of many other new words – including the recent ‘hard isolation’ and ‘permanent fangcang’ – some commenters said the terms belonged to the ‘Shanghai Epidemic Dictionary Version 4.0.’

Similar to ‘bubble-style management,’ the term “bubble closed-loop management” (气泡式闭环管理) also appeared in this year’s Winter Olympics, where participants were only allowed to move between Games-related venues for their training, catering, accommodation, etc. through a dedicated Games transport system. Participants were not allowed to leave their designated areas.

For many Chinese residents, closed-loop management systems are nothing new. After the initial lockdown phase in the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak in China, the ‘Covid-19 closed-loop management’ (新冠疫情闭环管理) was applied to various areas whenever there were new local cases of COVID-19. In early August of 2021, for example, there was a closed-loop management system for residential areas in Zhengzhou after a spike in local cases and many communities and campuses across China have seen such management periods at some point during the pandemic.

Despite closed community rules, this pedicure shop found a way to resume work. Viral image shared on Weibo in context of ‘bubble-style management.’

The most important thing the closed-loop approach does is create a barrier between an ‘inside’ community and the ‘outside’ world, with very strict checks on who can enter and exit the area, and usually a ban on group gatherings within the area. Residents sometimes get an access card to enter/exit the district, but any outsiders, including couriers and delivery staff, are not allowed inside the closed surroundings.

The closed-loop measure is not the same as a lockdown (“封城”). The main goal of the closed-loop ‘bubble’ approach is to limit and reduce the flow of people and their movements within an area in order to dramatically reduce the risks of new infections among people within the bubble.

The Olympic ‘bubble system’ was so strict that authorities even issued a statement saying locals should not approach people on an Olympic vehicle in the case of an accident or crash (they would need to call the emergency number and maintain their distance), in order to make sure that there would be no contact at all between people from within the bubble and outside the bubble.

 

The bubble system basically means that most Shanghai companies can’t reopen because their companies do not have the capabilities to create a bubble.”

 

Shanghai’s current ‘point-based work resumption’ (点式复工) and ‘bubble-style management’ (气泡式管理) are both epidemic prevention measures during this first stage of Shanghai’s gradual reopening to resume work, given that the requirements and conditions for the resumption of work are met.

‘Point-based work resumption’ is an active policy for people holding key positions at companies within the non-manufacturing sector that are resuming work. According to the ‘point-to-point’ (点对点) strategy, employees are either staying within the closed loop of their workplace or within the premises of their community. They can only return to their workplace once a month, and are not allowed to stay longer than one week.

‘Bubble-style management’ refers to the closed-loop commute system between workplaces and residential communities through a direct company shuttle bus. The ‘bubble’ can not be broken, meaning only workplaces with zero Covid risks and communities without any cases can be inside such a bubble commute system.

The difference between bubble-style management and ‘closed-loop management’ (闭环管理) is that the first still allows people to go out and move between home and work. In the case of strict ‘closed management,’ people are confined to their work dorms or their residential community.

“Can we issue a Covid dictionary, please?” one commenter asked, with many still confused about what the two terms actually mean and how they are different from each other: “What does it even mean?”

“The bubble system basically means that most Shanghai companies can’t reopen because their companies do not have the capabilities to create a ‘bubble.’ It seems impossible unless the government provides them with the ‘bubble,'” another Shanghai-based commenter said.

Others also suggested the ‘bubble system’ is just another way to get people stuck inside their workplace. If there would be a Covid infection in the workplace, employees potentially could get stuck there as they would not be allowed to return home due to the risk of bringing a new case into their community compound.

On Weibo, some say the term ‘bubbe-style management’ sounds like it comes straight from a science fiction novel, with others adding: “We’re already in the future.”

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

The “Final Round Players” of China’s Covid Outbreak

Those who still haven’t had Covid have made it to the “finals,” but it’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative.

Manya Koetse

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This Chinese Lunar New Year period, as millions of people are traveling across the country, Hangzhou Daily (杭州日报) posted a video on Weibo of a 13-year-old boy dressed in full protective clothing at the Hangzhou train station.

The young man told the reporter that he was on his way to visit his grandparents for the Chinese New Year. When asked why he was dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, he answered: “Because I haven’t had Covid yet.”

According to the video posted by Hangzhou Daily, the boy has made it to the “Final Rounds” (决赛圈) as he has managed to stay Covid-negative at a time when so many people have already been infected with Covid-19 (#挺进决赛圈的男孩穿防护服坐火车#).

Since China ‘optimized’ the last stringent measures of its ‘Zero Covid’ policy back in early December – including an end to mandatory mass testing, – a wave of Covid infections spread across the country. The number of infections and emergency department visits reportedly reached its peak in late December of 2022 and in early January of 2023.

According to Wu Zunyou (@吴尊友ChinaCDC), chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of China’s population has now been infected with Covid (“这一波疫情已经使得全国约80%的人感染过”).

As it is getting rarer to come across someone who has not had Covid yet, travelers dressed in full hazmat suits and protective gear are bound to stand out. “So many people on the train, and there are still two people in the crowd wearing protective clothing,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote. Others also post photos on social media of some of the few travelers still fully dressed in protective gear.

One blogger photographed a child wearing protective clothing at Chongqing West Station on Jan. 24, calling the protective attire “exaggerated,” and wondering how the child was supposed to go to the toilet.

Photo posted on Weibo by @杨品-光线摄影学院 on Jan 24., 2023.

Traveler wearing protective clothing at Hangzhou East Station, photo by @百鸣老屈.

Hangzhou Daily is not the only media outlet dubbing those who managed to stay negative “final round players” (决赛圈选手). In early January, Beijing Daily (北京日报​​​​) and People’s Daily (人民日报) also published a short article using the same phrase. In the article, the Beijing expert physician Dr. Li Dong (李侗) answered some questions about the so-called ‘finalists.’

According to Dr. Li Dong, some of the people who claim to have managed to stay ‘Covid free’ were never infected due to protective measures. But there are also those who may have actually had Covid-19 without realizing it, as they barely had any symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“Final round players, protect yourself!” one Weibo commenter writes: “Who else has managed to reach these finals?”

“As a ‘final player,’ I finally went out to eat and visit the shopping mall today. I’ll have to wait and see if I reach the championship level. If I haven’t caught [Covid], I can go on and lead a normal life; if I did catch it, I’ll need to wait a while, and will also be able to lead a normal life.”

Other persons who did not have Covid yet also share on social media that they went out for the first time during this Spring Festival period: “I cautiously went out and saw my first movie in 2023, Wandering Earth II, I picked a morning screening so that the cinema is not so crowded yet.”

Now that the Covid infections in China have peaked and the number of infected critically ill patients is quickly dropping, the fears over catching Covid are also seemingly fading among those who were not yet infected.

But some people who have not had Covid yet are still being careful, especially if it concerns elderly family members. It’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative – also for loved ones who did previously have Covid and want to protect their family.

One Fujian-based social media user writes: “I recovered from Covid and I’m spending the Spring Festival with three ‘final round players.’ We’ve been stuck inside the house for days. I’ve been looking at the lanterns and the lights in the neighborhood, watching them from the balcony, and I really wanted to go down and see.”

“Looking at WeChat Moments, all my friends are out traveling, but my family still hasn’t had Covid and we’re afraid to go out,” another netizen writes: “It’s sad to celebrate the New Year without going out. Guess we’re final-round players now, let’s hope it brings good things.”

Meanwhile, the group of ‘finalists’ is still shrinking. One Weibo user from Guangxi wrote: “I’ve left the finalist circle. It’s only been two days since I returned to my hometown and I’m already infected.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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