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Life in the time of Covid-19

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

A note from a Beijing expat.

I’m in my 10th week of “quarantine life”. It gets harder and then it gets easier, then changes are made, we feel like we’re back to square one, then 2 days later moved on to square 10. It is a strange time to be living in a foreign country, away from my family and friends who are at home in the UK.

In my 5-6th week, life was becoming easier- places were slowly opening their doors to minimal patrons and with strict rules and regulations. The sooner you comply with a quarantine lifestyle, the sooner normality ensues. Beijing has not been in a state of absolute lockdown at any point during the outbreak; for which I am ever thankful.

I have done my quarantine and I still only surround myself with a select group of individuals. I’m allowed to head out shopping and to visit restaurants. Masks must be worn at all times when out in public areas. Public areas include the public areas of your apartment block. Taxis, restaurants and stores refuse entry to anyone not wearing a mask. I have to sign in and record my temperature everywhere I go. Signing in includes noting down not only my name but also my passport number, phone number, district that I live in, home country, gender, temperature and my health code which is linked through my passport and phone number. A health code states that you are healthy and have not been admitted to hospitals or shown any symptoms.

The apartment blocks vary in their definition of quarantine protocols. Some have curfews, some do not. Some won’t allow visitors, some will. My apartment block is on the school site. This means access to our gym and leisure facilities has been suspended. It also means our visitors on site have to be approved weeks in advance. Temperatures are recorded twice daily for the nurse to send into local authorities. I disinfect the thermometer before I use it, even though I know nobody in my block is ill. The virus has made me much more aware of other people and how much I come into contact with the same devices, buttons and handles as other people. I carry a mini spray bottle of disinfectant which I use to spray elevator buttons, handles on shopping trolleys, even my own hands instead of hand sanitiser. I disinfect my outdoor mat before I walk into my apartment,

For those scared of the virus, I was beyond anxious on my way back to Beijing. On landing I found out I was on the very last British Airways flight to Beijing before BA cancelled their services to Mainland China. Their staff were to quarantine in a specific area of the airport before flying back on the last flight to the UK. I feel so fortunate that I managed to return to my resident country before the virus harboured worse scenarios for those overseas. I was fortunate to return to an empty airport, partake in quarantine in my own apartment surrounded by own belongings. Others arriving later would find themselves in government hotel quarantine- unable to leave and unable to cook or order food during the 2 weeks. They would be given supplies each day and pay for the privilege. I was also so blessed to have been travelling First Class on my flight. This meant minimal contact with other passengers, luxurious surroundings and impeccable food and drinks on my last flight for a long time!

On landing I wondered what I would be greeted with. I was nervous- I shouldn't have been.

I was greeted with a calm city, empty streets, well stocked supermarket shelves not missing mass amounts of products. Shelves missed a few desired and imported items but that is normal for Chinese New Year. I still managed to buy my avocados and gnocchi. As it currently stands; I would rather be here in China than in the UK. The UK have been late to lock down and take action. We (China) have overcome the height of the curve, been criticised by other governments who have done little to nothing to protect their citizens, been criticised for "late" action (compare how quick China reacted in comparison to Italy, UK, USA when they knew it was going to spread and already had started). China has handled this situation so well. The way of life in China has hardly changed due the fact that we have WeChat Pay and AliPay (contactless payment with no limit), delivery services already set up for majority of restaurants allowing businesses to remain open or allow for delivery instead of eating in house, contactless payment and ordering of Taxis and Didi (who use a sheet of plastic to separate the driver and passengers). Our lives are altered but not difficult. China is a nation set up for hard situations and I am so proud to say that I lived through Covid-19 in the city of Beijing. Every individual I know has worked tirelessly to ensure that life continues running as normal as possible- supermarkets, sports, and schools alter the way in which they run to allow for "normality".

The best thing you can do in this situation is to not spread fear. It is a serious virus. But please just be aware of your actions. Be considerate of the services being offered during this time. Be thoughtful of your friends with weak immune systems. If you have a sniffle, stay away from your friend with a weak immune system and don't go out! Your frustrations of holidays’ getting cancelled are to keep airline workers, hoteliers and other people safe. Always think of the larger picture. THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!!

Keep yourself and your home clean and disinfected. Disinfect your shoes, bags etc as you get ready to enter your home. Clothes go straight in the wash. Wash your hands and produce before you eat. Practice safe hygiene. Wear a mask. I can’t reiterate enough- WEAR A MASK. The reason China has kept this at bay and stopped the spread so quickly- is because everyone, by law, must wear a mask. If you are sick- a mask stops the spread of germs. It makes breathing in those airborne germs a lot more difficult. Germs are less likely to land up on handles etc. JUST WEAR A MASK!!

The other countries decided to not follow the same precautions. Even 15-16 weeks in, life won't be normal. Don't expect it to be.

Life is gradually becoming stricter here in Beijing due to the outbreaks in the rest of the world. Some places are now no longer open to foreign patrons. Some streets are entirely off limits. Your thoughts are of your holidays being cancelled. Mine are whether I will see my family any time soon, whether I can leave and re-enter my country of residence, work and life. China has worked so hard to combat Covid-19.

Wherever you are in the world, please don't judge China. Do not say that this is because some woman wanted to eat a bat. That is factually incorrect. Please, for everyone's sake... Be kind. Support your local businesses (they need you now, more than ever), support each other in whichever way you can. This virus needs a group mentality to beat it. It needs a positive set of actions, not a set of harmful ones. It pains me when I see the racist comments floating around social media... always looking for a person or something to blame.

Just accept that it is what it is, this is the situation we are currently in and the only way to beat it is to self isolate. JUST FOLLOW THE RULES!

Copyright 2020 Lauren Toner

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