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China and Covid19

Trending on Weibo: “Why Can’t Shanghai Residents with Covid-19 Recover at Home?”

While Chinese top experts stress that Covid patients can not recover at home, Shanghai’s centralized quarantine locations are anything but a home away from home.

Manya Koetse

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According to China’s strict Covid measures, everyone testing positive during Shanghai’s current outbreak needs to go to a centralized quarantine location. While Chinese top experts say home isolation is not an option, Shanghai residents complain about the deplorable conditions at the isolation centers.

While Shanghai is battling the worst Covid outbreak the city has ever seen and infection numbers continue to rise, today’s number one hashtag on social media platform Weibo is: “Why Can’t People Infected with Covid-19 Isolate at Home?” (#新冠感染者为什么不能居家隔离#).

Trending topic list of Weibo, April 11 2022.

Since Shanghai’s current outbreak started on March 1, the city’s 26 million residents have been seeing stringent anti-epidemic measures, including a citywide lockdown and mass testing campaigns. This month, frustrations have been building among residents who struggle to get food, medications, and urgent medical care amid China’s dynamic zero-infection policy.

China’s so-called ‘zero-Covid policy’ is all about rapidly responding to new Covid cases, precise prevention measures, and controlling and extinguishing local outbreaks as fast as possible to avoid further spread of the virus and drastically reduce the number of people getting sick and dying. As part of this strategy, people who test positive for Covid-19 are sent to centralized facilities for a mandatory quarantine.

It’s not just people at home who have been struggling during this lockdown – many also face difficulties in getting basic medical care or adequate supplies at these centralized quarantine centers. Videos circulating on Chinese social media expose how people at some isolation facilities are fighting over food or are facing unhygienic living conditions.

The apparent disorganization at some quarantine facilities has triggered discussions on Chinese social media, where many are wondering why people who barely show any Covid symptoms should still be quarantined at centralized locations. Besides the fact that many of these quarantine facilities are far less comfortable than people’s own home environment (there are usually no private rooms, no showers, etc), people also fear cross-infection or re-infection due to the crowded and sometimes chaotic living conditions.

The state of the toilets at one Pudong quarantine location.

Due to a lack of medical staff, many of these facilities cannot offer adequate medical care to Covid patients who need it. Additionally, people who test positive for Covid-19 and are required to go to a quarantine location also cannot take care of pets or vulnerable family members who test negative and are left at home by themselves.

Last week, two dog owners who were taken away to a quarantine location left their Corgi dog on the streets because they feared it would starve to death if they would leave it inside their home. The dog was killed by an anti-epidemic worker shortly after. This incident also triggered massive outrage online and fuelled discussions on the need to be quarantined at a designated location rather than being allowed to stay at home.

On Weibo, the hashtag “Why Can’t People Infected with Covid-19 Isolate at Home?” received over 160 million views on Monday. The topic was initiated by the Daily Economic News (@每日经济新闻) account, which posted a video showing the renowned Chinese top epidemiologist Liang Wannian (梁万年) stressing the importance of China’s zero-Covid strategy and centralized isolation policy in light of the rapid growth in Omicron infections.

According to Liang, isolating asymptomatic or mildly ill Covid patients at home may cause further spread of the virus, especially because Omicron spreads so quickly. Even though they have mild symptoms, these Covid patients are still contagious and could spread the virus to their families and beyond. Liang also argued that patients need to be isolated at a centralized location because they can be easily monitored and treated that way.

Liang also addressed the problem of ‘people waiting for beds’ (“人等床”). Some people from Shanghai sharing their Covid journey online have expressed their frustration with being taken away for quarantine days or even weeks after they tested positive. The Shanghai-based Italian producer Alessandro Pavanello detailed his Covid experience on Instagram, where he wrote that he tested positive on March 26 but was not taken away for quarantine until April 9th. By that time, two entire weeks after his positive test, he already tested negative again but still needed to go to a centralized isolation site.

Liang Wannian called Shanghai’s fight against the virus an issue of systematic project management, where the problems within the process of screening, diagnosing and a rapid transfer and treatment need to be solved in order to stop continuous transmission of the virus: patients should not wait for beds, beds should be waiting for patients (“床等人”).

On Saturday, China’s largest-ever makeshift hospital opened its doors in Shanghai. The hospital at the National Exhibition Convention Center has a capacity of 50,000 beds for Covid-19 patients, and there are more than 5000 members of medical staff and 10,000 people doing logistics and supporting work (Xing & Cao 2022).

Meanwhile, more Chinese officials and experts are emphasizing the importance of sticking to the “dynamic zero-COVID strategy” as the best way forward for China. Zhang Wenhong (张文宏), head of the infectious disease department at Fudan’s Huashan Hospital, was also quoted by China Daily on Monday as saying that the pressing task for China now is to contain the epidemic in Shanghai and to cut off the transmission in communities so that normal life and production in the city can resume.

China Daily also reported that prominent Chinese pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan (钟南山) gave a lecture on Friday in which he suggested that co-existing with the virus and lifting the restrictions does not fit China’s situation since it would allegedly lead to many deaths: “In China, we should stick to the dynamic zero-COVID strategy and ease policies gradually in the future,” he said (Wang 2022, 3).

 
Shanghai’s mandatory quarantine implementation: lacking logic
 

On Weibo, thousands of people have commented on the “Why Can’t People Infected with Covid-19 Isolate at Home?” hashtag. Many agree with the centralized quarantine measures, as they fear that the virus would otherwise quickly spread in Shanghai’s densely populated areas and high-rise buildings through, for example, ventilation systems or shared facilities.

But there is also a lot of criticism. Although the Weibo post by Daily Economic News had received over 3300 replies on Monday, only a handful of comments were viewable at the time of writing. Another post containing the video received 222 replies, but none of them were displayed. “The comment section just shows ten comments, does it mean that the other 3000 people didn’t agree?”, one Weibo user wondered.

Another Weibo user described her experiences at an isolation site, posting photos of the conditions there. She writes:

“Up to now, I’ve always supported Shanghai’s active disease prevention. We have been isolated at home since early March. Ten tests we did all came up normal, but the last one unexpectedly came up positive. They took us to an isolation site. If the conditions had just been a bit better, we’d be okay with it, but this is just unimaginable. These are the facts. Over 800 people have entered this facility since April 9, their ages varying from seventy or eighty years old to babies just a few months old.

1. Inside the factory building, there are plank beds without mattresses, there are no people to clean.
2. There is no supervisor, we need to fight over our food.
3. There are not enough supplies, not even enough toiletpaper.
4. 80% of the toilets are clogged, there’s nobody to clean them.
5. There are no doctors and nobody to take care of patients with a fever.
6. There is no one to dispose of the garbage.
7. The weather’s hot, but there’s no place to shower or change clothes.

I really hope the relevant departments will pay attention to the fact that the dirty environment may cause other diseases and lead to more serious secondary hazards.”

“The conditions at home are definitely much better than at the makeshift hospitals,” one Weibo blogger wrote.

There are also posts commenting on how Shanghai’s mandatory quarantine strategy implementation is devoid of logic, making people isolate who have already recovered from Covid (like the aforementioned example of the Italian man). One netizen wrote about her friend who tested positive, recovered at home by herself, tested negative multiple times, and only received a call from the Center of Disease Control days later that she had to go to a quarantine location. She asked them to come to her house to do a test, so she could show them she had recovered, but the CDC refused due to “lack of staff” and still made her go to the facility for 14 days, stuck in between Covid positive people without enough medical staff and a lack of supplies. “This is Shanghai,” the blogger wrote.

Another Weibo user also published a lengthy post about their experiences getting to a Shanghai quarantine location. Like many others, this Weibo user also tested negative again and was still required to go to a centralized isolation site without getting any information on where he would be taken or how long he would be gone.

Together with many people who tested positive for Covid, he was inside a bus for hours without any access to water or toilets. When he finally reached the isolation site, he found that people who tested negative and positive were all mixed together – and that there was not a single doctor at the entire facility. Angry and frustrated, he wrote on Weibo:

“Before I put pen to paper, I hesitated if I should write down the facts of what is happening to us and if it would only bring more worry and stress to my friends and family, but after thinking twice I still think that all the people outside, no matter where you are, need to understand what we are going through and realize how different the reality is from the reports.”

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

By Manya Koetse

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References (online sources are linked to in text)

Wang, Xiaoyu. 2022. “Virus Highly Infectious, But Unlike Flu.” China Daily (Hong Kong), April 11, page 3.

Xing, Yi and Cao Yin. 2022. “Giant Makeshift Hospital to Ease Treatment Burden.” China Daily (Hong Kong), April 9, page 1.

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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China and Covid19

The End to Zero Covid: China’s New 10 Covid Rules Are Here

“Everyone is really happy but there is a black cloud heading our way.”

Manya Koetse

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Over the past few weeks, China’s Covid measures have seen gradual changes, and various places across China have eased local rules regarding nucleic acid testing and the accessibility of public transport and venues. Now, central authorities have announced more measures that basically end the ‘zero Covid’ policy as we knew it. The ‘ten new rules’ became top trending on Weibo.

Just a month ago, on November 11, Chinese central authorities released a set of twenty new rules to “further optimize” China’s approach to Covid.

At the time, Chinese media emphasized that the new rules did not mean that China was letting go of its dynamic Zero Covid policy. Now, another ten new rules have been introduced that do indicate that the country is clearly no longer sticking to its ‘zero Covid’ goals.

After a central meeting that took place on December 6, authorities released a 10-point plan addressing changes in Covid measures. National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng (米锋) announced the measures during a live-streamed press conference of the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council (#国务院联防联控机制发布会#).

On Wednesday, several hashtags related to the new measures went trending on Chinese social media, including “Health Code” (#健康码#), over 450 million views), and “Ten New Rules” (#新十条#, over 440 million views).

 
These Are the 10 Changes:
 

1: Lockdown Changes
Risk areas should be assessed and divided according to science and it should be done precisely. We should no longer see the lockdown of an entire community or residential area; instead, it will be assessed by looking at household units, buildings, and apartment floors. The (temporary) closure of areas will no longer be allowed.

2: Testing Changes
The scope of nucleic acid testing was already limited in the previous adjusted rules, but will now be further limited. Instead of RT-PCR tests, rapid PCR tests will be used more often in accordance with local requirements. Nucleic acid testing will remain in place for high-risk positions and high-risk area personnel in accordance with relevant regulations, and some places including nursing homes, schools, and medical care institutions will still require negative tests, but negative nucleic acid test certificates and health code checks will no longer be necessary for traveling from place to place.

3: Quarantine Changes
People who tested positive but are asymptomatic or only show mild symptoms can isolate at home if they meet local requirements. Centralized isolation centers will still be in operation for more severe cases or those opting in for centralized quarantine. If nucleic acid tests are negative after the fifth day, the isolation period can end.

4: ‘High-Risk Area’ Changes
If no new cases have been detected for five consecutive days, local lockdowns should be lifted.

5: Medicine Availability Changes
Pharmacies should operate normally and cannot be arbitrarily closed. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for cough, fever, etc should not be restricted.

6: Vaccination Strategy Changes
The promotion of the Covid vaccination should be stepped up for Chinese seniors, especially in the 60-79 age group, with a clear focus on making sure they get all the vaccinations they need as quickly as possible. In order to boost the vaccination rates, temporary vaccination sites will need to be set up and they will need to be local incentives to get the seniors to vaccinate asap. This was actually also mentioned in the list of twenty optimized Covid measures in November (under rule 12).

7: Medical Classification Clarity
There should be clearer knowledge on the medical status of residents and whether elderly residents have any underlying medical issues and if they have been vaccinated.

8: Focus on the Normal Functioning of Society & Basic Medical Services
If areas are not classified as high-risk areas, people should be allowed to move around freely and have access to basic medical care, and there should be no restrictions on production, work, and business operations.

9: Strengthen Safety Procedures in Epidemic Situations
Buildings [in high-risk areas] cannot block fire exits, unit doors, or community gates under any circumstances. Community management departments should have effective modes of communication systems in place to contact local medical institutions in order to safeguard the medical needs of residents, including seniors living alone, children, pregnant women, and those with underlying conditions.

10: Improved Policies regarding Outbreaks at School Campuses
As also mentioned in the previous updated rules, on-campus epidemic control must be consistent, precise, and in accordance with science. Not only can there be no unnecessarily long lockdowns of campuses, but the risk areas within campuses should be more precisely defined, and normal teaching and living outside these areas should be able to continue as usual. Schools without any outbreaks should carry on normal offline teaching activities, and capus facilities such as supermarkets, cafeterias, libraries, etc. should be open.

 
Online Responses
 

One clear online response to China’s recent ‘optimized’ Covid measures is that people are buying a lot of medication, expecting to be infected with Covid soon. Some online stores had already sold out on the Traditional Chinese medicine Lianhua Qingwen (连花清瘟), a herbal pill by Yiling Pharmaceuticals which is used for the treatment of influenza as well as Covid.

Sold-out Lianhua Qingwen pills.

One popular Weibo blogger (@咖啡布偶猫) wrote: “I feel as if the propaganda has seen a sudden change in direction. During the first half of the year and the epidemic in Shanghai, everyone would get scared the moment you talked about a positive case, they wanted to fiercely chase it and thoroughly reach zero cases. Now they are propagating that we should not panic, that we should accept the reality and actively respond to it, as if it is nothing alarming. But we should still pay attention to those with underlying medical conditions, those with respiratory issues, asthma, and lung disease. If you haven’t bought cold medicine yet, do so. Right now, some places even have a limit on buying Lianhua Qingwen.”

During the December 7 press conference, Guo Yanhong (郭燕红), director of the National Health Commission’s health emergency division, emphasized that it is not necessary for people to stock up on medication in light of the announced eased Covid measures and that there are sufficient supplies (#卫健委提示没有必要囤积抢购药物#).

“After being sealed for three years, it’s all lifted in a morning, all the prices go up for Lianhua Qingwen, rapid antigen tests increase in price, and if your symptoms get serious you’re still not able to get help anywhere.”

Some jokingly suggest that after messing around for three years, the pandemic is only now really starting.

“Everyone is really happy now but there’s a black cloud coming our way, we will know in a month or so if it is going to be light drizzle or a heavy rainstorm.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China and Covid19

Chinese Commentator Hu Xijin Expects to “Get Covid Within a Month” (and Why It Matters)

This Hu Xijin commentary can be seen as part of a wider trend of normalizing Covid in the Chinese online media sphere.

Manya Koetse

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Hu Xijin (胡锡进), the Beijing-based retired editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times, recently published a post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo about him getting mentally ready to be infected with Covid-19 soon.

The former journalist Hu, whose posts and statements often go trending and influence public opinion, also made a few other noteworthy comments.

On Sunday (Dec 4), Hu posted: “Over the past week, China has essentially ended widespread lockdowns, with places like Beijing and others beginning to allow home quarantine for many positive individuals, while reducing the scope of nucleic acid testing. These are amazing changes.”

Four weeks ago, right before China introduced its twenty new Covid measures, Hu already argued that strict lockdowns are no longer sustainable and that China should aim for a more relaxed and local approach (which is exactly what happened).

Now, Hu Xijin says that he is “mentally preparing to be infected with Covid within the coming month” (“做好了在一个月之内被感染上的思想准备”), further writing:

In order for young people to have a colorful young era, in order to save the livelihood of so many service industry workers, in order for people from all walks of life to avoid seeing their wages cut, in order for so many companies to get out of their predicaments, this 62-year-old ‘Old Hu’ is willing to participate in the risk of getting [a virus that] degenerated to only 2.5 per 10,000 rate of getting seriously ill.”

Hu’s post was published on December 2nd in the context of Hu Says, a regular video column by Hu Xijin.

A few months ago, such a comment coming from such a big account would have been unthinkable.

In May of this year, those who tested positive still complained about suffering from stigmatization in society.

But Hu’s comments come at a time when there are more discussions about getting Covid and sharing the experiences of having Covid.

In the second week of November, shortly after Chinese authorities launched their updated Covid rules, the hashtag “What Is It Like to Catch Covid-19?” (#感染新冠是什么体验#) already went trending on Weibo, along with other hashtags informing Chinese netizens about what it’s like to get Covid – a virus that so many in China never experienced first hand.

Since Hu Xijin (1960) ended his career as the editor-in-chief of Global Times in 2021, his role as a political commentator has arguably become even more important and more visible on Weibo than before, especially in China’s challenging Covid times of 2021.

Some find him overly nationalistic, for others he is not nationalistic enough; there are those who find him reasonable, and then some say he is repetitive and just dancing to the tune of Party propaganda. But then there have also been some discussions – in light of Pelosi’s controversial Taiwan visit – about Hu misleading public opinion by not matching the official stance.

Whichever it is, some things are certain: Hu has some 25 million followers on Weibo, and he is often the first major media account that is allowed to discuss in detail some major sensitive social topics, even if these online discussions are otherwise being tightly controlled (think of the Tangshan BBQ Restaurant incident, the future of zero Covid, the Urumqi fire, and the 11.24 protests across China.)

Hu’s comments about ‘catching Covid soon’ can be seen as part of a wider trend of normalizing Covid in the Chinese online media sphere, preparing people to face a virus they are still unfamiliar with since ‘zero Covid’ has always been the main goal.

On December 3, Hu further clarified his comments about preparing to getting Covid. He explained he expects to catch the virus because he is active in the media environment, through which he unavoidably is in touch with many different people. He also promised that if he might get infected, he would share his Covid experience with all of his readers.

As the idea of catching Covid is becoming more normalized (there are more and more trending hashtags informing what to expect after getting Covid, e.g. #新冠发病7天内身体会发生什么变化#), people are also exchanging non-scientifical advice on how to prevent catching Covid, such as drinking licorice ginger soup, holding Sichuan peppercorns inside your mouth when going out, or getting silicon covers for the drains in the bathroom to prevent the virus coming through via neighboring apartments.

Some express their worries about catching the virus. “I’m really scared. I’ve already replaced all of my masks with K95 ones,” one Weibo user wrote: “My immune system has been weak since I was little, and I have allergies. I have the feeling that if I get infected I might lose half my life, if I don’t die (..) I’m in a state of panic.”

Even though China is still far from ‘opening up’, some people are already preparing to ‘live together with the virus,’ reminding others that getting vaccinated, keeping social distance, and washing hands are all measures that will help in preventing getting Covid.

“I am worried about getting Covid but I also want to open up,” some on Weibo said.

“As much as I wanted it all to end, this feels abrupt,” one social media user from Inner Mongolia wrote: “It won’t be the same as before. The thorough ‘zero Covid’ [policy] has gone. The country’s protection of our health has gone up to this point. I hope everyone can now take care in prevention themselves, and protect themselves and their families. I hope the epidemic situation will end soon, that the world will be ok, and that we can have our freedom.”

Meanwhile, Hu Xijin informed netizens on Saturday that he had some milk, boiled eggs, pastry and pickled mustard greens for breakfast. While working on his condition and nutrition, he says that if his Covid positive time comes, he will not get any VIP treatment. If allowed, he’ll either recover from home or go to a centralized Covid location.

He will just have to wait and see what happens, just as millions of other Chinese citizens are waiting to see what this winter is going to bring.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

The featured images are all images that went viral recently in light of China opening up (including nucleic acid testing booths being taken away).

 

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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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