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China and Covid19

Growing Discontent on Chinese Social Media over Harsh Measures: “Why Can’t China Ease Covid Restrictions?”

Some say this year is not 2022 but “2020too”, suggesting that everything has gone back to the initial stage of the Covid outbreak.

Manya Koetse

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As China is seeing its biggest surge in Covid cases since 2020, official media channels are emphasizing the need to stick to China’s zero-covid approach. But many on social media are increasingly dissatisfied with the harsh measures and wonder if this is still the best way forward.

As Omicron is spreading throughout mainland China, mass testing, strict quarantine rules, and lockdowns have become part of daily life again. As discontent about the lockdowns has recently been growing on Chinese social media, the hashtag “Why Can’t China Lift Safety Measure Just Like Foreign Countries?” (#中国为什么不能像国外一样取消防疫措施#) is top trending on social media platform Weibo, where it had received over 490 million views on Wednesday.

The hashtag was initiated by Chinese economic news outlet National Business Daily (每日经济新闻) in light of a recent CCTV interview with renowned epidemiologist Liang Wannian (梁万年), a strong advocate of China’s dynamic zero-Covid strategy and the leader of China’s Covid-19 expert panel. A fragment of the interview went viral on Chinese social media, receiving over 140,000 likes on Weibo alone.

In the interview, Liang responded to a question about many foreign countries recently easing Covid safety measures or removing them altogether, posing a stark contrast to China where new local outbreaks – China reported 37,000 cases this month – are met with an ongoing pursuit of ‘zero Covid.’ How much longer can China keep up its strategy?

According to Liang, protection of the people comes first for China, epitomized by Xi Jinping’s now-famous “put people and their life first” slogan (“人民至上,生命至上”). Unlike some other countries, China has not chosen for a strategy where restrictions are removed and Covid is no longer seen as a critical threat to society. Protecting the people is more important than a so-called ‘herd immunity,’ Liang says. If the virus would run its course, people would suffer – especially the elderly and the vulnerable. Instead, China is sticking to its strict measures and meanwhile is increasing its vaccination rates and winning more time for more research and development of Covid-19 treatment.

Liang’s comments, which emphasize that China’s current strategy is the best choice for the people and the country, send out a different message than the remarks recently made by Jiang Rongmeng (蒋荣猛). Jiang, vice-president of Beijing’s Ditan Hospital, said in an interview that Omicron infections were milder than a common flu and “more like a cold.” That interview later seemed to be censored on social media, with some people questioning China’s strict measures for the outbreak of something “like a cold.”

One person posted this photo on Weibo of a dog allegedly getting a swab test for Covid-19, reiterating the comments made by Dr. Jiang about Omicron being “milder than the flu.”

Although many people on Chinese social media are fully supporting China’s zero-Covid approach, the discussions triggered by the “Why Can’t China Lift Safety Measure Just Like Foreign Countries?” hashtag are also heavily controlled. Over the past months, China’s Covid policy has seen more online criticism.

 

Shifting Online Sentiments

 

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan in late 2019, China’s success in controlling the spread of the virus has been praised by many. The cost of keeping Covid-19 cases close to ‘zero’ was met with a lot of understanding and approval from netizens, such as when the city of Chengdu entered ‘wartime mode’ in December of 2020 after seven domestic Covid-19 were detected; or when eleven million residents of Shijiazhuang were banned from leaving the city and had to undergo tests in January of 2021; or when Shanghai Disneyland closed its doors in November of 2021 and 34,000 visitors needed to be tested after a single Covid case among the public, and so on.

Testing done in Disneyland Shanghai.

But by late December of 2021 and early January of this year, online sentiments seemed to shift as the country saw an increase in local outbreaks while authorities still tried to wipe out all traces of Covid-19, especially in light of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Online criticism of China’s extreme efforts to contain Covid-19 also came earlier, in November of 2021, when a pet dog was killed by epidemic prevention workers in the city of Shangrao while its owners were being quarantined. People were outraged and blamed the Shangrao government for its seemingly indifferent response to the incident.

After home security cameras captured how health workers killed a pet dog in a locked-down compound, there was a wave of online anger.

The strict lockdown in the city of Xi’an, beginning on December 22nd of 2021, triggered anger and disbelief online over the way in which local authorities were managing the Covid-19 outbreak and the lockdown itself. Many residents dealt with food shortages, some were forced to leave their homes for quarantine in the middle of the night, and others dealt with the consequences of a lack of an efficient and speedy response to people’s need for urgent medical care.

After one pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage in front of the hospital gate – she was not allowed to enter due to nucleic acid test procedures – the public’s anger reached a boiling point. Although the hospital in question later apologized, the anger did not subside. “Are we really fighting this epidemic to save lives?,” one popular blogger wrote at the time.

When another pet dog was beaten to death by health workers in early March of 2022 in the city of Huizhou, many were outraged that such an incident could happen again: “This epidemic has been going on for several years, why does this keep happening? First Shangrao, now Huizhou. It’s heartbreaking.”

Shortly after the Huizhou dog incident, footage showing chaotic scenes at the Shanghai Sixth People’s Hospital circulated online. The hospital was sealed after a patient tested positive for Covid. Nurses who allegedly felt they were not given enough protective measures to treat Covid-19 patients were still forced to work, leading to actual physical altercations between medical workers. One post about the incident received over 143,000 likes on Weibo, with some calling the incident “shameless.”

On March 11, thousands of people got stuck at the China International Beauty Expo (CIBE) in the Canton Fair Complex (广交会展馆), and needed to get tested after a member of staff tested positive for Covid. After videos showed a mass of people in one of the halls, more netizens were openly questioning if this is the right way forward for China’s Covid approach.

 

China’s ‘2020too’

 

As mainland China is now facing its worst Covid-19 outbreak since the height of the pandemic in 2020, people in Shanghai, Shenzhen, and other affected regions are again facing tough restrictions in light of the battle against the virus.

One Weibo user recommended Shanghai residents to keep a “go bag” at hand with a toothbrush, an extra pair of underwear and socks, and some small blankets or sleeping bags just in case they get stuck at work or elsewhere due to the Covid measures – one Zhengzhou woman was recently quarantined inside a hotpot restaurant for three days.

Due to the increase in temporary, local lockdowns, some on WeChat and Weibo have dubbed this year as China’s “2020too” – a wordplay on the English pronunciation of “2022” -, saying that it sometimes feels as if everything has gone back to the initial stage of the Covid outbreak back in 2020. “I find it so hard to believe that the 2022 I was looking forward to has turned into another 2020 [2020too],” one Weibo user writes.

A social media post by a Shanghai resident who tested positive for Covid-19 has also triggered discussions regarding China’s Covid-19 approach. In the lengthy post titled “A Shanghai Resident’s Covid Records” (“一个上海居民的新冠记录”), the Weibo user nicknamed ‘Hemuch’ described the utter chaos and inconvenience of staying at a central quarantine location for a few days.

‘Hemuch’ tested positive for Covid19 during a community test round on March 18. Although they did have a fever that day, it was gone the next day. When Hemuch tested positive again on the 19th, they were bombarded with calls from various health workers regarding quarantine but did not receive clear information on where they were going or what they needed to prepare. On the morning of the 20th, they were eventually transferred to quarantine at a local hospital together with other people who tested positive. ‘Hemuch’ describes how on the 23rd of March, after four days, not a single doctor or nurse has come to check on the patients: no tests, no temperature checking, no medication. A 90-year-old patient suffering from high blood pressure who stayed in the same room allegedly also did not receive proper care nor her prescribed drugs. The Shanghai resident further writes that their mother, who also had to be isolated, was sent to another hospital where there were no beds – she spent the first night on the floor in the hallway.

The social media post triggered many questions. Why were asymptomatic patients sent to a hospital where not only they were not receiving care, but actually were worse off than in their own home? Why were people with no symptoms, or minor ones, taking up the hospital beds of people who actually need life-saving care? “Can we alleviate the pressure of this ‘social epidemic’?”, ‘Hemuch’ wondered.

Another person responded to the post (update: now censored): “Medical resources are being wasted. Other patients can’t normally see a doctor. Healthcare workers are exhausted. Entire neighborhoods where people are not testing positive are locked down for days. So many people are losing their jobs because shops are closed.”

“This epidemic is turning people crazy, really! One policy hasn’t even become clear before the next policy is issued, new policies keep getting introduced and are updated all the time!” Another commenter asks: “How many years have passed? What’s the difference between now and 2020?”

 

United in the Fight Against Covid19?

 

The growing discontent on Chinese social media is being met with increased efforts by state media and official channels to promote China’s Covid strategy and ease existing concerns. Expert views from Liang Wannian or renowned doctor Zhang Wenhong (张文宏) are specifically pushed forward by Chinese media, emphasizing that the potential death toll of relaxing Covid measures would be too high and that China cannot afford to “lie flat” (“躺平”) and let the virus run its course.

Weibo as a platform is also actively promoting a positive attitude regarding China’s fight against the virus and is updating posts directly related to concerns about local Covid measures.

One example is the post below by a Shanghai resident, where the author describes that they are in a locked-down compound and cannot get an ambulance for their father who needed urgent care. Weibo later added a sticky bar to the post with an update saying that the father, albeit hours later, was finally admitted to a local hospital.

On Weibo, by Weibo, poster saying “United in the Fight against the Epidemic.”

While calls for easing existing measures are growing, there are also many netizens who still strongly support China’s Covid-19 approach.

“I don’t understand why you would want to remove the epidemic measures? Open it all open, ignore everything and just live with virus, are you kidding me? The only reason why you think that Covid19 is not serious or Omicron isn’t scary at all is because of the existing measures,” one popular Weibo blogger writes (@柠檬王同学): “It would be a mess if we’d let go of the measures. The mortality of Covid might be low, but who knows how many after-effects it will bring? Isolate, isolate, isolate – not because it is good for you but because it’s good for everyone.”

Another sentiment expressed by many is that there is no universal approach to the pandemic, but that every country needs to figure out its own way of dealing with the Covid crisis – and that China is tackling the epidemic situation in the way that suits China best.

Since there seems to be growing polarization between those who support China’s strict anti-Covid measures and those who think the measures should be eased, various commenters jokingly suggest the following solution: “Why don’t we lock up the people who don’t support a lifting of the lockdown measures together, so that the people who support an end to the lockdown can resume their regular life?”

Others think that, even if the restrictions would be eased and measures would be lifted, there is still a long road ahead: “The epidemic situation, the air crash, the war, international relations …… after three years of experiencing all these things, people’s emotions are reaching a boundary point. I can imagine that once all of this is over, there is still a long psychological and spiritual struggle waiting for us.”

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Featured image via Weibo.

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.

©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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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mike

    March 24, 2022 at 1:14 am

    Great article, thanks Manya. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, especially as some countries have moved on and the impact this has on local peoples’ psyches.

  2. Avatar

    Pax Politica

    March 25, 2022 at 5:03 am

    My daughter enrolled in a Uni in China, she has been studying online from Indonesia for close to a year. Looking at how strict China is, we loose hope of it allowing International students to enter China next semester and has decided to find alternative country to transfer to. It is sad that we have to start over (finding a country she can experience) but we have wasted a year waiting for China to open up.

  3. Avatar

    Wang

    March 25, 2022 at 7:07 pm

    There are two facets of China’s Zero COVID policy that the CCP will not mention: the ineffective Chinese vaccines and China’s under-resourced, poorly organized healthcare system. Outbreaks in China will cause more severe disease and overwhelm hospitals simply because the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines do not produce the level of immune response found with mRNA vaccines. The CCP had an opportunity to rectify this, since Pfizer has given Fosun Pharm a license to produce its mRNA vaccine in China. But the CCP will not allow this, in order to save face. While China cannot quickly address its inadequate healthcare system, there are measures the CCP can take to mitigate the pandemic in China – allow production of the BioNTech/Pfizer mRNA vaccine in China and start inoculating citizens. However, the CCP will never allow this, as they would then have to admit that China’s vaccines are inferior.

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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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