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China and Covid19

No Chunyun but Staycation: Chinese New Year Won’t Be the Same This Year

From local governments to brand commercials, “staying put for the holidays” (就地过年) is the trend of this Spring Festival.

Manya Koetse

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As China is seeing the worst wave of new infections since March of last year, staying put for Chinese New Year is the trend for this holiday season.

China’s chūnyùn (春运), the travel season around Chinese New Year, started on January 28. It usually is a chaotic and exciting time as people travel home to be reunited with their families.

But this year, Chinese New Year and its travel season, which starts 15 days prior to the Spring Festival and lasts 40 days, will be different from other years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and local outbreaks across China, with the country seeing the worst wave of new infections since March of last year: 2,016 cases were reported from Jan. 1-30.

Nevertheless, officials still expect about 1.7 billion trips to be made during this time period. Although this number is higher than last year, when Spring Festival commenced just shortly after the initial Wuhan outbreak, the number of total trips is lower than during other years. In 2016, for example, around 2.9 billion trips were made and in 2019 that number rose to around 3 billion.

In order to minimize domestic migration during Chinese New Year, many places around China encourage people to stay put instead of going back home to celebrate, with some Chinese media calling “staying home” the trend of the year.

The keywords this year are “stay put for the holidays” (jiùdì guònián 就地过年) and “New Year’s policies” (guònián zhèngcè 过年政策). State media outlets like Xinhua also initiate hashtags on social media such as “This Year Stay Put For New Year’s” (#今年就地过年#).

 

Stay Home Subsidies

 

One way to encourage people to refrain from traveling during Chinese New Year is by offering people monetary compensation when they stay home. These measures are called “subsidy policies” (bǔtiē zhèngcè 补贴政策).

Earlier in January of this year, the city of Suzhou announced that it would offer compensation of 500 yuan ($77) to people who stay home during the Spring Festival. The city of Beijing promised domestic helpers in Beijing to give them a bonus if they would continue working from February 4 to February 26.

The city of Yiwu, Zhejiang, also gives out 500 yuan to every resident who does not travel from February 1st to February 26th to cover their electricity bill. The city also gives out 20GB of mobile data for all phone users to use for free, and promises free public transport to Yiwu residents during the Spring Festival period. The initiative was promoted on social media using the hashtag “Yiwu Issues 500 Yuan Consumption Vouchers to Encourage Staying Put for the New Year’ (#义乌发500元消费券鼓励就地过年#).

The cities of Hangzhou, Hefei, and Foshan also give out bonuses from 1000 up to 2000 yuan ($155-310) to various (migrant) working groups to stay put.

Various incentives across China, explained by CCTV.

There are many more initiatives though, such as Beijing giving out 20GB of free mobile data and companies in cities such as Zhejiang, Ningbo and Quanzhou issuing “red packets” for workers choosing not to go home.

Checking local policies via Alipay.

There are various ways for residents to check which benefits they could get if they stay put this year. The Alipay app, for example, allows people to check the local policies in their area (“各地过年福利政策查询”服务”).

 

Quarantine & Testing

 

For those people who would still like to travel despite the various incentives to stay home, there are some extra hurdles to take.

China’s National Health Commission has stated that people returning to rural areas will need to produce a negative Covid-19 test issued up to seven days before their departure during the Spring Festival, BBC reports.

In fact, virtually everyone taking part in the chunyun travel season will need to have a negative Covid-19 test with them. All travelers entering or returning to Beijing will also need a negative Covid-19 test taken within seven days.

Travelers will also have to be under a 14-day “home observation” period. This means they need to monitor their health and temperature daily. They are still allowed to leave their home, but they cannot participate in any group activities.

Chinese state media CCTV also reminds travelers to make sure they wear their mask the right way and to maintain hand hygiene.

 

Promoting Staycation

 

The ‘staycation’ New Year is also promoted in various other ways. Commercial brands are sending out the message of celebrating the Spring Festival at home through their ads and commercials.

The new ad video by antibacterial soap brand Safeguard (舒肤佳), for example, shows a family preparing for New Year’s festivities.

Although it first seems as if the grandparents, children and grandchildren are all celebrating together in one home, it then turns out that they are all ‘united’ at the dinner table via video connection.

The brand’s message is that this year, the most valuable gift families can give each other is the gift of safeguarding each other’s health.

There is also public service advertising initiated by local governments to promote staying at home during Chinese New Year. The image below was published through social media by Linyi city, Shandong.

Meanwhile, in a video promoted by Chinese state media People’s Daily, Zhang Wenhong (张文宏), leader of the Shanghai Covid-19 Medical Treatment Expert Group, said that “spending New Year’s in situ is a sacrifice,” also adding: “I have great admiration for the comrades who spent New Year’s Eve locally”, calling it “a contribution for all Chinese people.”

A hashtag page added to Zhang’s words received over 490 million views at time of writing (#张文宏称就地过年是作出了牺牲#).

Although many people express their understanding of the situation, not going home to spend New Year’s with their families is a big disappointment for many Weibo commenters – especially when it’s the second year to skip the Spring Festival family reunion.

“We’ve been setting aside too much over Covid-19,” one commenter writes, but others say: “Special circumstances require special treatment. It’s ok, we can stay put for Spring Festival.”

But there are also those who are just sad about missing out on the celebrations. “I understand the reasoning. But I’ll be spending Chinese New Year all alone by myself. Just thinking of it makes me want to cry.”

“I’ll spend New Year’s at home. I can have a family reunion another time. I just want this pandemic to go away.”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes


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.

©2021 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

Sick Kids, Worried Parents, Overcrowded Hospitals: China’s Peak Flu Season on the Way

“Besides Mycoplasma infections, cases include influenza, Covid-19, Norovirus, and Adenovirus. Heading straight to the hospital could mean entering a cesspool of viruses.”

Manya Koetse

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In the early morning of November 21, parents are already queuing up at Xi’an Children’s Hospital with their sons and daughters. It’s not even the line for a doctor’s appointment, but rather for the removal of IV needles.

The scene was captured in a recent video, only one among many videos and images that have been making their rounds on Chinese social media these days (#凌晨的儿童医院拔针也要排队#).

One photo shows a bulletin board at a local hospital warning parents that over 700 patients are waiting in line, estimating a waiting time of more than 13 hours to see a doctor.

Another image shows children doing their homework while hooked up on an IV.

Recent discussions on Chinese social media platforms have highlighted a notable surge in flu cases. The ongoing flu season is particularly impacting children, with multiple viruses concurrently circulating and contributing to a high incidence of respiratory infections.

Among the prevalent respiratory infections affecting children are Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections, influenza, and Adenovirus infection.

The spike in flu cases has resulted in overcrowded children’s hospitals in Beijing and other Chinese cities. Parents sometimes have to wait in line for hours to get an appointment or pick up medication.

According to one reporter at Haibao News (海报新闻), there were so many patients at the Children’s Hospital of Capital Institute of Pediatrics (首都儿科研究所) on November 21st that the outpatient desk stopped accepting new patients by the afternoon. Meanwhile, 628 people were waiting in line to see a doctor at the emergency department.

Reflecting on the past few years, the current flu season marks China’s first ‘normal’ flu peak season since the outbreak of Covid-19 in late 2019 / early 2020 and the end of its stringent zero-Covid policies in December 2022. Compared to many other countries, wearing masks was also commonplace for much longer following the relaxation of Covid policies.

Hu Xijin, the well-known political commentator, noted on Weibo that this year’s flu season seems to be far worse than that of the years before. He also shared that his own granddaughter was suffering from a 40 degrees fever.

“We’re all running a fever in our home. But I didn’t dare to go to the hospital today, although I want my child to go to the hospital tomorrow. I heard waiting times are up to five hours now,” one Weibo user wrote.

“Half of the kids in my child’s class are sick now. The hospital is overflowing with people,” another person commented.

One mother described how her 7-year-old child had been running a fever for eight days already. Seeking medical attention on the first day, the initial diagnosis was a cold. As the fever persisted, daily visits to the hospital ensued, involving multiple hours for IV fluid administration.

While this account stems from a single Weibo post within a fever-advice community, it highlights a broader trend: many parents swiftly resort to hospital visits at the first signs of flu or fever. Several factors contribute to this, including a lack of General Practitioners in China, making hospitals the primary choice for medical consultations also in non-urgent cases.

There is also a strong belief in the efficacy of IV infusion therapy, whether fluid-based or containing medication, as the quickest path to recovery. Multiple factors contribute to the widespread and sometimes irrational use of IV infusions in China. Some clinics are profit-driven and see IV infusions as a way to make more money. Widespread expectations among Chinese patients that IV infusions will make them feel better also play a role, along with some physicians’ lacking knowledge of IV therapy or their uncertainty to distinguish bacterial from viral infections (read more here)

To prevent an overwhelming influx of patients to hospitals, Chinese state media, citing specialists, advise parents to seek medical attention at the hospital only for sick infants under three months old displaying clear signs of fever (with or without cough). For older children, it is recommended to consult a doctor if a high fever persists for 3 to 5 days or if there is a deterioration in respiratory symptoms. Children dealing with fever and (mild) respiratory symptoms can otherwise recover at home.

One Weibo blogger (@奶霸知道) warned parents that taking their child straight to the hospital on the first day of them getting sick could actually be a bad idea. They write:

“(..) pediatric departments are already packed with patients, and it’s not just Mycoplasma infections anymore. Cases include influenza, Covid-19, Norovirus, and Adenovirus. And then, of course, those with bad luck are cross-infected with multiple viruses at the same time, leading to endless cycles. Therefore, if your child experiences mild coughing or a slight fever, consider observing at home first. Heading straight to the hospital could mean entering a cesspool of viruses.”

The hashtag for “fever” saw over 350 million clicks on Weibo within one day on November 22.

Meanwhile, there are also other ongoing discussions on Weibo surrounding the current flu season. One topic revolves around whether children should continue doing their homework while receiving IV fluids in the hospital. Some hospitals have designated special desks and study areas for children.

Although some commenters commend the hospitals for being so considerate, others also remind the parents not to pressure their kids too much and to let them rest when they are not feeling well.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

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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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China and Covid19

Repurposing China’s Abandoned Nucleic Acid Booths: 10 Innovative Transformations

Abandoned nucleic acid booths are getting a second life through these new initiatives.

Manya Koetse

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During the pandemic, nucleic acid testing booths in Chinese cities were primarily focused on maintaining physical distance. Now, empty booths are being repurposed to bring people together, serving as new spaces to serve the community and promote social engagement.

Just months ago, nucleic acid testing booths were the most lively spots of some Chinese cities. During the 2022 Shanghai summer, for example, there were massive queues in front of the city’s nucleic acid booths, as people needed a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours for accessing public transport, going to work, or visiting markets and malls.

The word ‘hésuān tíng‘ (核酸亭), nucleic acid booth (also:核酸采样小屋), became a part of China’s pandemic lexicon, just like hésuān dìtú (核酸地图), the nucleic acid test map lauched in May 2022 that would show where you can get a nucleic test.

Example of nucleic acid test map.

During Halloween parties in Shanghai in 2022, some people even came dressed up as nucleic test booths – although local authorities could not appreciate the creative costume.

Halloween 2022: dressed up as nucliec acid booths. Via @manyapan twitter.

In December 2022, along with the announced changed rules in China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach, nucleic acid booths were suddenly left dismantled and empty.

With many cities spending millions to set up these booths in central locations, the question soon arose: what should they do with the abandoned booths?

This question also relates to who actually owns them, since the ownership is mixed. Some booths were purchased by authorities, others were bought by companies, and there are also local communities owning their own testing booths. Depending on the contracts and legal implications, not all booths are able to get a new function or be removed yet (Worker’s Daily).

In Tianjin, a total of 266 nucleic acid booths located in Jinghai District were listed for public acquisition earlier this month, and they were acquired for 4.78 million yuan (US$683.300) by a local food and beverage company which will transform the booths into convenience service points, selling snacks or providing other services.

Tianjin is not the only city where old nucleic acid testing booths are being repurposed. While some booths have been discarded, some companies and/or local governments – in cooperation with local communities – have demonstrated creativity by transforming the booths into new landmarks. Since the start of 2023, different cities and districts across China have already begun to repurpose testing booths. Here, we will explore ten different way in which China’s abandoned nucleic test booths get a second chance at a meaningful existence.

 

1: Pharmacy/Medical Booths

Via ‘copyquan’ republished on Sohu.

Blogger ‘copyquan’ recently explored various ways in which abandoned PCR testing points are being repurposed.

One way in which they are used is as small pharmacies or as medical service points for local residents (居民医疗点). Alleviating the strain on hospitals and pharmacies, this was one of the earliest ways in which the booths were repurposed back in December of 2022 and January of 2023.

Chongqing, Tianjin, and Suzhou were among earlier cities where some testing booths were transformed into convenient medical facilities.

 

2: Market Stalls

Market stalls instead of nucliec acid testing booths. Image via Sina.

In Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the local government transformed vacant nucleic acid booths into market stalls for the Spring Festival in January 2022, offering them free of charge to businesses to sell local products, snacks, and traditional New Year goods.

The idea was not just meant as a way for small businesses to conveniently sell to local residents, it was also meant as a way to attract more shoppers and promote other businesses in the neighborhood.

 

3: Community Service Center

Small grid community center in Shizhuang Village, image via Sohu.

Some residential areas have transformed their local nucleic acid testing booths into community service centers, offering all kinds of convenient services to neighborhood residents.

These little station are called wǎnggé yìzhàn (网格驿站) or “grid service stations,” and they can serve as small community centers where residents can get various kinds of care and support.

 

4: “Refuel” Stations

In February of this year, 100 idle nucleic acid sampling booths were transformed into so-called “Rider Refuel Stations” (骑士加油站) in Zhejiang’s Pinghu. Although it initially sounds like a place where delivery riders can fill up their fuel tanks, it is actually meant as a place where they themselves can recharge.

Delivery riders and other outdoor workers can come to the ‘refuel’ station to drink some water or tea, warm their hands, warm up some food and take a quick nap.

 

5: Free Libraries

image via sohu.

In various Chinese cities, abandoned nucleic acid booths have been transformed into little free libraries where people can grab some books to read, donate or return other books, and sit down for some reading.

Changzhou is one of the places where you’ll find such “drifting bookstores” (漂流书屋) (see video), but similar initiatives have also been launched in other places, including Suzhou.

 

6: Study Space

Photos via Copyquan’s article on Sohu.

Another innovative way in which old testing points are being repurposed is by turning them into places where students can sit together to study. The so-called “Let’s Study Space” (一间习吧), fully airconditioned, are opened from 8 in the morning until 22:00 at night.

Students – or any citizens who would like a nice place to study – can make online reservations with their ID cards and scan a QR code to enter the study rooms.

There are currently ten study booths in Anji, and the popular project is an initiative by the Anji County Library in Zhejiang (see video).

 

7: Beer Kiosk

Hoegaarden beer shop, image via Creative Adquan.

Changing an old nucleic acid testing booth into a beer bar is a marketing initiative by the Shanghai McCann ad agency for the Belgium beer brand Hoegaarden.

The idea behind the bar is to celebrate a new spring after the pandemic. The ad agency has revamped a total of six formr nucleic acid booths into small Hoegaarden ‘beer gardens.’

 

8: Police Box

In Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, authorities have repurposed old testing booths and transformed them into ‘police boxes’ (警务岗亭) to enhance security and improve the visibility of city police among the public.

Currently, a total of eight vacant nucleic acid booths have been renovated into modern police stations, serving as key points for police presence and interaction with the community.

 

9: Lottery Ticket Booths

Image via The Paper

Some nucleic acid booths have now been turned into small shops selling lottery tickets for the China Welfare Lottery. One such place turning the kiosks into lottery shops is Songjiang in Shanghai.

Using the booths like this is a win-win situation: they are placed in central locations so it is more convenient for locals to get their lottery tickets, and on the other hand, the sales also help the community, as the profits are used for welfare projects, including care for the elderly.

 

10: Mini Fire Stations

Micro fire stations, images via ZjNews.

Some communities decided that it would be useful to repurpose the testing points and turn them into mini fire kiosks, just allowing enough space for the necessary equipment to quickly respond to fire emergencies.

Want to read more about the end of ‘zero Covid’ in China? Check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse,

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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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