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China and Covid19

Social Media Discussions Surrounding China’s Major Policy Shift and National Covid Wave

Five major views and discussions on Chinese social media in light of the country’s sudden opening up and Covid wave.

Manya Koetse

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On December 7th of this year, Chinese authorities announced the ten new rules that eased the country’s stringent Covid measures. Within days, the Health Code system was abolished in most places, quarantine locations were changed into sub-designated hospitals, and by December 12th, the country’s zero-Covid had effectively ended.

Although people were happy to bid farewell to China’s fangcang, lockdowns, mass testing, and Covid QR systems, the extreme speed at which the changes took place caused other problems as the number of Covid-infected rose all over China and difficulties in purchasing medicine became a reality. Many were unprepared, in various ways, for the huge shift in policy.

As countless Weibo bloggers post about their Covid symptoms, exchange tips and give updates, there are also other wider social media discussions surrounding the current Covid outbreak. These are the main gists of the online discussions taking place on Weibo this week.

 

1. SHIFT TOO SUDDEN

“I am still unable to understand why the policy took such a sharp turn, we did not even have the time to adjust”

 

One recurring sentiment on Chinese social media in the midst of this current outbreak is that the changes are too abrupt and that people barely had time to prepare themselves for the end of ‘Zero Covid.’

On December 5th, just days before the major easing of restrictions, one blogger from Beijing (@ETF拯救世界) posted:

What I find a bit strange is that we’re seeing several places opening up now, but why haven’t we seen something like a national-level manual regarding medical treatment? How to handle getting infected, what kind of medicine we can take, how to rest, how to use antigen tests, under which circumstances should we stay home and when to go to hospital, when we can start exercise and undertake activities again, what about nutrition, the issue of mental stress, and when can we return to work again? There is nothing there. If there’s something, I haven’t seen it.”

Although state media outlet People’s Daily later did issue such a ‘manual’ via social media (#阳性感染者居家康复实用手册#), it came at a time when the major Covid wave was already in full swing.

“Lockdowns are lifted, but now I no longer dare to go out at all,” one popular comment said.

“Such a sudden shift, if we would have a road of easing [measures] first, we could have had some options. Now we have no choice,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote.

“Why did we open up in winter, why didn’t they restore the purchasing of antipyretic medicine before opening up, why did they insist on notifying us so last minute?”

Some people share how they feel the shifts of 2022 when it comes to Covid made them feel like they had no control of the situation at all: “I am still unable to understand why the policy took such a sharp turn, we did not even have the time to adjust.”

At the same time, there are also commenters who still say they feel happy about the end of Covid measures: “I am not happy about the sudden turn of events, but I’m glad that we’re opening up,” one person wrote.

 

2. INCONSIDERATE FELLOWMEN

“Covid-19 is a ‘monster-revealing mirror’ when it comes to human nature”

 

Apart from the sudden policy shift itself, people also complain about a shift in people’s attitudes regarding the virus and the sense of selfishness that has come with it.

Xie Dai (@榭黛), a Fujian-based Weibo astrology blogger with over 800k followers, addressed the polarization that the recent opening up of China has brought between people in a recent post.

Today is December 22nd, the tenth day since the complete liberalization (全面放开) of the epidemic. I won’t go into details about the other [problems] Covid has brought, but I want to plainly talk about the problem related to human nature reflected in the epidemic. Some people have become closer thanks to the epidemic, others have started to plant seeds of hatred inside their hearts because of the epidemic, and then there are those who parted ways due to the epidemic. Covid-19 has become a “monster-revealing mirror” when it comes to human nature.”

Xie Dai writes about an incident recently with a customer from Hubei who told her that they wished she would “test positive for Covid very soon” – a comment that left Xie Dai baffled. She also recounts the personal stories of some of her contacts, including one in which a bride-to-be called off the wedding because her fiancee offered her zero sympathies while lying in bed with Covid and a 104°F (40°C) fever – until he tested positive himself and started to understand how bad she must have felt.

One of her clients from Jiangsu let her cousin (her aunt’s daughter) stay with her for the past 2.5 years without asking for any money in return. When Xie Dai’s client fell ill with Covid, the cousin did not ask her how she was doing, nor brought her any medicine or fruit. While lying in bed, she had plenty of time to think and decided to kick her cousin out of the house once she recovered.

Other trending stories show that partners are not always supportive in times of sickness. One video captured by home security cameras showed a husband carelessly leaving his crying child with his wife, even though the mother was visibly ill and had no energy to take care of their baby (#丈夫故意把孩子弄哭丢给发烧妻子#). “Once you test positive, their humanity is put to the test,” one popular comment said.

Besides the complaints about the inconsiderate behavior of people from within one’s own social circles, there are also those who think (local) authorities have been selfish in their hasty decision-making: “When Shanghai saw an epidemic outbreak, they did lockdown lockdown lockdown, because the ones going into lockdown wasn’t them; during this outbreak, they’re opening opening opening, because they can lock themselves out.”

 

3. SOCIAL CLASHES

“Pinning the suffering on others becomes more important than the suffering itself”

 

Covid is causing clashes between friends and families, but there is also a broader trend of people condemning those who previously spoke out in support of China opening up, and those who protested against China’s stringent Covid measures in late November (read more here).

“Since so many people were dissatisfied with the lockdown controls, they should be open to accept the consequences they face today,” one blogger based in Xinjiang wrote.

Another Weibo user suggested that the protesters carrying A4 papers, protesting to ease measures, did not take into account the status quo of China’s medical situation and the size of the population, saying: “You now turn a blind eye to the human suffering we’re facing.”

One popular blogger from Shanghai wrote:

Hatred. In the past few days, I noticed a wider trend of public opinion regarding the massive number of infections after opening up, with some having heavy symptoms – some elderly people simply can’t cope and pass away. All these sufferings are considered to be evil caused by those who demanded liberalization, and all those who advocated liberalization should now pay the price and apologize. If someone enthusiastically promoted opening up before and are now infected themselves, then they only have themselves to blame. In short, one group of people sees another group of people as enemies and hates them all for having their wishes fulfilled as if they really could decide anything. I said it before, but in public opinion, pinning the suffering on others becomes more important than suffering itself, and you could even say that exercising control over the blame of the suffering becomes like exercising control over the suffering itself.”

 

4. TIRED OF EXPERTS

“That Covid would be like a cold is the biggest lie of 2022”

 

Throughout China’s epidemic, many well-known experts have recurrently given advice and information regarding Covid-19. In this current outbreak, public anger is also directed at these experts, especially because their advise seems to change all the time and many people do not agree with what they are saying or doing, and people have lost trust in their words.

“Completely unprepared, they opened everything up in one night, and greatly misjudged the level of infections,” one Weibo user wrote.

“These bullsh*t experts said it was like a cold,” others said: “But I feel so unwell!”

“That Covid would be like a cold is the biggest lie of 2022.”

One of the experts who compared Covid-19 to a common cold is Zhong Nanshan (钟南山),who even proposed to call Covid-19 the Covid cold (新冠感冒) (#钟南山称当前新冠应该叫新冠感冒#).

Another reason why people are tired of reading about ‘expert advise’ in the media is that they contradict each other all the time.

For example, one hashtag said: “Experts Say that the Body Will Still Need 2-3 Weeks to Recover after Turning Negative” (#专家称转阴后身体约2到3周才能恢复#) while the other hashtag said “Zhong Nanshan Says 99% of Infected People Will Fully Recover within 7-10 Days” (#钟南山称99%感染者7至10天完全恢复#).

This trend of people turning against experts also came up earlier in 2022, when the topic of “experts are advised not to advise” (建议专家不要建议) was trending on Chinese social media.

 

5. WORRIES OVER HEALTHCARE AND MEDICAL RESOURCES

“I hope those who died can rest in peace, and that those who live will be strong”

 

Perhaps one of the most important topics that comes up in the context of online discussions about China’s current situation is healthcare and the availability of medicine and other medical resources.

“It’s the sixth day of Covid,” one Weibo user wrote: “I used to support opening up, until I got Covid. I suddenly realize that this virus is not so easy, I know of many elderly people who already passed away because of it and I feel really unwell, which is making me wonder in which way this ‘catastrophe’ will end.”

Other netizens also worry about the Covid symptoms they are experiencing or seeing all around them. “What I don’t understand is that before we opened up, the people inside the quarantine locations were asymptomatic, however after opening up so many who test positive are experiencing symptoms all over, and are running a fever.”

Many people complain about their symptoms being much worse than they expected. “Will I ever feel well again?” some wondered.

“I can’t get medicine, I can’t get a nucleic acid test here, they’re not doing it at the hospital either, and the antigen tests are sold out,” one Weibo commenter from Jiangsu said on 28 December.

Another Weibo user posted a video on 24 December showing crowded scenes at the emergency department of Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital recorded on the 23rd. In the video, two hospital staff members pushed a trolley with a body bag on it through the crowds. Although the video was shared over 500 times and received more than 300 comments, none of the comments were available to see at time of writing.

Last week, people in various regions across China also posted videos and images of overcrowded fever clinics and local hospitals.

Healthcare workers also shared their challenges on social media, as the long working hours and major inflow of Covid-positive patients expose them to physical and mental exhaustion.

“We usually have thirty patients in our ward, now we have over seventy yet we have the same number of staff,” one healthcare worker from Zhejiang wrote.

“It’s been nineteen days since we opened up, and I never imagined this,” one Weibo user from Henan said: “In every county and municipality, funeral parlors are overflowing, the crematoriums are completely full.” After writing about seeing long lines of people in front of the funeral homes, they end their post: “I hope those who died can rest in peace, and that those who live will be strong. Tomorrow will be a better day.”

Read more about Zero Covid ending 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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