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China and Covid19

High Hopes, Sober Assessments: China’s COVID-19 Vaccines Discussed

Already successful or still a long way to go? Mixed news reports and discussions on China’s COVID-19 vaccine program.

Manya Koetse

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There are strikingly different online discussions on China’s COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Some already think the vaccines are effective and about to be launched, while others are more apprehensive about the implementation of a successful program in the near future.

It takes time and global collaboration for a massive vaccination program against COVID-19 to succeed, according to Chinese top scientist Zhong Nanshan (钟南山).

On September 24th, the renowned pulmonologist stated that it will take up to two years to roll out a large-scale vaccine program.

Zhong made his sobering statements during the 13th China Bioindustry Convention (第十三届中国生物产业大会) on Thursday, where he joined the Wuhan event via an online connection.

These remarks, posted by a few media outlets on Weibo, are noteworthy in a social media context where China’s potential COVID-19 vaccines are presented as being in a highly advanced stage, leading to high hopes of a COVID-19 vaccine program launching in the very near future.

 

Already Proven Successful?

 

This week, various state media outlets, including CGTN, propagated the news that some Chinese vaccine candidates have already been proven to be effective during their clinical trials.

The published news, issued on Wednesday, September 23rd, led to the viral hashtag “Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine Proven to Be Successful” (#中国新冠疫苗已被证明有效#), which attracted over 480 million clicks on Weibo.

The hashtag was also used on Weibo in combination with a video showing renowned medical scientist Chen Wei (陈薇), visibly emotional, praising the efforts made in the development of a Chinese vaccine.

For the CanSino company, Chen Wei led a joint team over the past months in developing and registering an experimental COVID-19 vaccine. It was the first vaccine candidate to be approved for clinical trials. In state media, Chen is now described as the “She-power behind China’s first COVID-19 vaccine.”

CGTN

“Seeing her cry makes me want to cry,” some commenters said: “Our country is fantastic.” “I am so proud of China,” a typical comment said.

“I hope the people can get the vaccine as soon as possible,” some Weibo users said, with others also asking: “When can we get it?”

Any news on China’s social media about Chinese vaccines proven to be successful at this stage lead back to one statement allegedly made by WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan during a World Health Organization media briefing on Monday, September 21st.

An edited clip of Swaminathan’s statement was published by CGTN, but looking back in the actual media briefing, the Chief Scientist can be heard saying “if some of their candidates prove to be successful,” rather than saying they have already been proven effective (see twitter thread above for the videos).

The quote by Swaminathan is as follows:

We have been engaged in discussions with China for the last several months because, as you know, they also have a very active vaccine development program and several of the vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of clinical trials, so this is also of interest to us. We are following those very closely and we have had very constructive and open discussions with them and they have always been reiterating their commitment to global access if some of their candidates actually prove to be successful in the clinical trials that are going on.”

 

Promising Results

 

Despite the apparent confusion over Swaminathan’s remarks, there seems to be enough news on China’s ongoing vaccine research for people to be hopeful about the high-speed development of a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.

China currently is among the major players in the international race to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. The country has eleven different vaccines in clinical trials, four of them in Phase III, meaning the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness is being tested on large patient groups.

Out of the four vaccines in this advanced stage, two belong to the state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm (中国医药集团总公司), divided over the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and the Beijing Institute of Biological Products.

Another vaccine belongs to Chinese vaccine company CanSino (康希诺生物), and the other to the Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac (北京科兴生物制品有限公司).

News that an upcoming vaccine by China National Biotec Group (CNBG, subsidiary of the state-owned Sinopharm) would cost only 600 yuan ($88) for two doses, if given the green light, made its rounds on Weibo this week (#国内新冠疫苗两针600元#), many applauding the affordable price.

More positive updates on the development of a Chinese novel coronavirus vaccine are flooding social media on a daily basis (#新冠疫苗工作进展#).

On September 25, the chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention Zeng Guang (曾光) shared an update about the progress of the country’s vaccine work during a State Council Information Office conference. He stated that, although further research is still underway, China’s earliest vaccine subjects have maintained high levels of antibodies. The hashtag “Chinese Vaccines Possibly Provide Long-Term Protection” (#我国疫苗可能有比较长期的保护作用#) received over 160 million views on Weibo on Saturday.

 

“Emergency Use”

 

While research is still ongoing, tens of thousands of people in China have already been given vaccines as part of an “emergency use designation.”

The CanSino vaccine candidate (Ad5-nCoV) was approved to be given to members of the military by late June , followed by the approval in July to give the vaccine to those facing high infection risks, such as medical industry workers and border inspectors.

Two other vaccines by Sinovac (“CoronaVac”) and by Sinopharm were also given to thousands of people, including the employees of Sinovac and their families, after both being authorized for “emergency use” in late July.

Zhou Song (周颂), secretary for the Commission for Discipline Inspection with China National Biotec Group (most widely used in the emergency scheme), was quoted by SCMP earlier this month, saying: “Hundreds of thousands have taken the shot and no one has shown any obvious adverse effects or got infected.”

China’s National Health Commission official Zheng Zhongwei (郑忠伟) also stated at a news conference Friday that the vaccines used pose no risks: “Their safety can be ensured but their efficacy is yet to be determined.”

One of the info sheets about the COVID-19 vaccine shared by People’s Daily on Weibo.

According to Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily, common people could have access to COVID-19 vaccines as early as November or December of this year.

 

Sobering Statements

 

Amid all these positive news reports coming out in the Chinese media and being discussed on social media, the more sobering statements by Zhong Nanshan stand out.

The 83-year-old epidemiologist reportedly does not expect a large-scale vaccine program to roll out until at least one or two years from now. Zhong also stated that the virus will continue to exist and spread this winter and in the spring of next year.

Zhong Nanshan is a pulmonologist who played a key role during the SARS outbreak, gaining international recognition as the ‘SARS hero.’ In the fight against COVID-19, the respiratory expert was also involved in managing the crisis. He is often on point in assessing the situation at hand. In early March, Zhong said the COVID-19 pandemic would continue until well after June of this year.

In August, Zhong was nominated the Medal of the Republic (共和国勋章) for his contributions, China’s highest order of honor.

There are mixed responses to the various reports about China’s vaccine program on social media.

When there is news about the vaccines potentially coming out very soon, there is praise but also worry – Weibo users express concern about vaccine safety. Various medical scandals have added to mistrust of vaccines in China. “I am concerned about the side effects,” one popular comment said, with others replying that they were also worried about the overall risks of the vaccine.

News of a large-scale vaccine program potentially taking up to two years, however, is also met with criticism. “Do they want to lock up students for two years?!”, many people wrote, referring to the closed-off campus policies of Chinese universities. Some social media users seem confused: “First it’s three months, then six, now one year, maybe two?”

But many people are also not too worried, praising China’s efforts in containing COVID-19 and working on a vaccine. “It’s the reliability that counts,” they say.

The most recurring comments are those taking pride in what Chinese medical experts have accomplished thus far. “China has become a world leader when it comes to medical technology,” some state: “Trump can go to bed. China is the best!”

Read more about the new coronavirus in China here.

By Manya Koetse

Original background of the featured image by Markus Winkler / @markuswinkler

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.

©2020 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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    John Wang

    September 29, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Really good explanation and translation of what Chinese people discuss everyday on weibo , wechat (and daily life).

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China and Covid19

Residents in Locked Down Lhasa Say Local Epidemic Situation is a “Giant Mess”

Manya Koetse

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They’ve been in lockdown for 42 days already, but according to some Lhasa-based bloggers, there have been no improvements in the local epidemic situation. They say there is a stark difference between what officials are reporting and the daily reality they are dealing with in Tibet.

“The epidemic situation is bad in Lhasa, please pay attention,” one netizen wrote on Weibo on September 15, pointing to many new posts surfacing on Chinese social media about the difficulties people are facing in Lhasa city in Tibet.

Over the past week, many Tibet-based bloggers have posted on social media about the local circumstances, and hundreds of Chinese social media posts talk about similar problems in the region. Despite the ongoing lockdown, they say, there are still a growing number of positive cases within Lhasa communities; buses are allegedly going back and forth to bring people to quarantine sites where those testing positive and negative are mixed; they claim that there is an absolute lack of management and control; and many locals suggest that the official reports do not reflect the actual number of Covid cases at all.

According to the official numbers, Tibet saw its peak in Covid cases on August 17 and has since reported fewer new cases, reporting a total of 118 new cases on Thursday.

“I am a bit shocked!” one local social media user wrote: “What I saw was a total of 28 buses lined up outside Lhasa Nagqu No. 2 Senior High School, and then still more [buses] were coming. One bus can fit around 50 people, so there must have been around 1400 positive cases. There was a blind man, there were elderly people in wheelchairs, there were swaddled-up babies, from getting on the bus at 9.30 pm up to now, we’ve been waiting for 5 hours and we’re still waiting now. It’s just pure chaos at the school entrance, there is no order. I won’t sleep tonight.”

On the 14th of September, another netizen wrote:

“In order to welcome central government leaders to Lhasa and to demonstrate the “excellent” epidemic prevention capabilities of the local government & the “outstanding” results of the fight against the epidemic to them, they moved citizens to the rural areas and let them all stay crowded together in unfinished concrete buildings, with all kinds of viruses having free reign.”

On a Lhasa community message board, one Weibo user wrote: “Lhasa has already been in lockdown for over a month, yet our little community has so many infected people that I’m wondering how effective a lockdown actually is? Has Tibet been forgotten? When other places in China have a few positive cases it becomes a hot topic. But what about Tibet? And what about Lhasa?”

Another anonymous poster writes: “Regarding the Lhasa epidemic situation, the numbers were already a bit fake before, but I can understand it was also to take the public sentiment into consideration. I personally don’t care how you report the data, as long as the epidemic prevention and control work is properly managed, then the lockdown can be lifted soon and nobody will say anything about it. But a month has passed already, and in a town with some hundred thousands of people, the epidemic work is increasingly getting worse. Many people around me have never even left the house and inexplicably turned out to test positive. Meanwhile those who tested positive are quarantined together with people who still tested negative, it’s a giant mess.”

 

“Lhasa hasn’t had a Covid outbreak for the past three years, the city doesn’t have enough experience in controlling the epidemic.”

 

“It’s the 42nd day of lockdown,” another person wrote on Friday: “People are lining up to go to centralized isolation, Lhasa has been in lockdown longer than Chengdu, but it doesn’t make it to the hot topic lists. People who tested negative again and again suddenly turn out to be positive. Lhasa hasn’t had a Covid outbreak for the past three years, the city doesn’t have enough experience in controlling the epidemic. It’s going to be hard to restore tourism here before the end of the year. Before, big crowds would come to visit.

Over the past few days, following a heightened focus on the situation in Xinjiang, there has also been more attention for the epidemic situation in Tibet.

“Please pay more attention to the topic of the Lhasa epidemic,” one person wrote, repeating a similar message sent out by many others: “Lhasa doesn’t need your prayers, we need exposure.”

On Friday, one popular gamer with more than a million followers wrote on Weibo:

“Many have been reaching out to me via private messages, saying that the epidemic situation in Tibet’s Lhasa is very serious. If it’s really like this, I hope matters can be settled as soon as possible. I don’t know if this post can stay up or not, but I want to try my best to speak up and generate more attention to this epidemic trend. I experienced two months of lockdown in Shanghai myself and understand what it feels like. I have faith in our nation, and I believe the country will definitely take action. Everyone in Tibet, jiayou [come on].”

Many of the comments and posts coming from Lhasa are similar to those we saw last week, coming from Yining in Xinjiang. Social media users based in these places complain that many of their posts have been deleted and that it is very difficult for local residents to make their voices heard.

This is different from the previous lockdown situations in, for example, Xi’an, Shanghai, or Chengdu, where people posted videos, photos, and shared their lockdown experiences, either from home, from the Covid testing lines, or from the makeshift hospitals.

On the one hand, the reason why people in places such as Lhasa or Yining have more difficulties in making their stories heard in China’s hectic social media environment relates to the fact that these places have a relatively small population size – while Yining and Lhasa have approximately 542,00 and 465,000 inhabitants respectively, there are 21 million people in Chengdu and some 26 million in Shanghai.

But a bigger barrier to posting about their circumstances is formed by the social media censorship that is extra strict when it comes to Xinjiang and Tibet as these places are considered sensitive political subjects, which is why topics related to these regions see far more aggressive online censorship – even for seemingly innocuous posts.

One Weibo user with over 600,000 followers wrote: “In such a sensitive place as Tibet, I really needn’t worry about whether they’re gonna see my post or not. I posted to vent my anger and scolded the leadership for a bit and within 24 hours the police came to my hotel and asked me to delete my posts. Now that everyone is asking for help like this, they will definitely see it, but they are determined to do this and do so on purpose, it’s clear they don’t care about people’s lives.”

Meanwhile, Chinese official media reporting on the epidemic situation in Tibet stress the collective effort to fight the virus in Lhasa. On September 15, People’s Daily reported how 18 sister provinces and cities across China sent their best teams to Tibet to help with local anti-epidemic work and to bring supplies.

The Tibet-based military blogger ZhufengZhengrong (@珠峰峥嵘) writes: “It’s been over a month and my comrade-in-arms are still fighting on the front line (..). I just hope the epidemic will end soon, and that I will be able to meet my family and hold my children and weep.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China and Covid19

Happiest Lockdown in China: Guests Undergo Mandatory Quarantine at Shanghai Disneyland Hotel

“I wish I could be quarantined at Disney too!” The Shanghai Disney hotel apparently is the happiest place to get locked in.

Manya Koetse

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While many cities across China are experiencing new (partial) lockdowns and millions of people are confined to their homes, there was also a group of people that had to undergo mandatory quarantine at a very special place: the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel.

On September 7, social media posts started surfacing online from people who said they were required to quarantine while they were at the Shanghai Disneyland hotel. Disneyland reportedly had received a notification from the local health authorities that a visitor who previously stayed at the Disneyland hotel was found to be a close contact of a newly confirmed Covid case.

In line with the Center for Disease Control requirements, Disney created a ‘closed loop system’ by locking in all hotel residents and staff members and doing daily Covid tests. While the Disneyland theme park was open as usual, the hotel became a temporary isolation site where people’s health would be monitored for the next few days while all staff members would also be screened.

During their mandatory quarantine, guests stayed at the hotel for free and did not need to pay for their rooms. Room prices at the Shanghai Disneyland hotel start at around 3000 yuan/night ($433).

Some guests shared photos of their Disneyland quarantine stay on social media, showing how Disney staff provided them with free breakfast, lunch, a surprise afternoon tea, delicious dinner, fun snacks, and Disney toys and stickers.

On the Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) app, one Shanghai Disney visitor (nickname @恶霸小提莫) wrote: “We have three meals a day, there is both Chinese and Western-style breakfast, we also get afternoon tea and desserts, they have shrimp, beef, scallops, drinks, French macarons, yogurt, ice cream, and much more. We watched so many Disney movies for free. We are given so many little gifts, they brought us gifts twice today as they also brought us toy figures at night. We watch the fireworks from our windows every night at 8.30 pm. Although we weren’t allowed to go out, we really had a pleasant stay.”

Another Disney guest named Zoea (Xiaohongshu ID: yiya0313) also shared many photos of the mandatory quarantine and wrote: “When the staff knocked on the door to tell me they were bringing dinner, I even wondered how it was possible that they brought food again. Afternoon tea during quarantine, can you believe it? And fruit before dinner? And midnight snacks brought to us after dinner? And it was so nice to watch all the Disney movies on tv. Disney really is the most magical place.”

“I’m just so happy,” another locked-in Disney guest posted on social media, sharing pictures of Mickey Mouse cakes.

Other guests also posted about their experiences on social media. “They probably feared we would get bored so they brought us glue, stickers, and painting brushes, the kids loved it and so did we!”

Reading about the happy quarantine at Disney, many Weibo users responded that they envied the guests, writing: “I wish I could be quarantined at Disney too.”

“I need to find a way to get in, too,” others wrote.

Earlier this year, one Chinese woman shared her story of being quarantined inside a hotpot restaurant for three days. Although many people also envied the woman, who could eat all she wanted during her stay, she later said she felt like she had enough hotpot for the rest of her life.

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.

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