The second wave of COVID-19 sort of hit Shanghai by surprise. Thus far, the city had been spared the worst of the pandemic, avoiding the harsh lockdowns seen in Wuhan and elsewhere. Sure, plenty of imported cases trickled in, and the last month saw an uptick in cases in Northern China. But we never thought the virus would cross the Yangtze to wreak havoc on this quiet coastal village of 24 million people.
But it came back. It came back with a vengeance; a fury of rage and hellfire that only the COVID-19 virus could muster. They cordoned off entire neighborhoods. News websites and social media blasted images of scary Haz-Mat suited officials. Two hospitals closed down all inpatient services. They started testing hundreds of people.
As of the time I write this, the total number of cases has skyrocketed to 16.
Only 16 Cases? Really?
No, you didn’t read that wrong. So far, the second wave of COVID-19 in Shanghai has resulted in less than twenty confirmed cases.
At first, all of China was making preparations for holiday travel for Chinese New Year. Literally millions of people return to their homes during this time. For many migrant workers, it’s the only time they see their families. Schools and businesses close down, and downtown Shanghai becomes a ghost town.
But, for obvious reasons, we couldn’t leave China this year. Many of us were thinking of traveling around China…but then, the virus reared its ugly head in the north.
The virus first hit Hebei, right next to Beijing. Suddenly, the government was locking down cities and issuing travel warnings. They started listing places as “medium risk” and suggesting people just stay where they were for the holiday.
We canceled our travel plans. I was never worried about getting sick myself. I didn’t want to go someplace and suddenly not be able to return because they locked down the city. Or having to spend the entire vacation in quarantine. Also, a teacher testing positive for COVID-19 could be the death blow to our little English school, since more than few parents would freak the hell out.
So, we decided to stay in Shanghai, where it was safe. Or so we thought…
The Second Wave of COVID-19 Washes Over Shanghai
Last Thursday, we all went to sleep in our little beds, blissfully unaware of what was coming. The next morning, we awoke to a text message from our manager telling us to come to an afternoon meeting about the epidemic situation in Shanghai.
I found myself glued to my phone for the whole day, staring at the news. They had shut down two hospitals. Each one had had workers test positive for COVID-19. One of the hospitals was just down the street from our old apartment. Later that day, they quarantined the entire neighborhood where the two workers lived. This was in Huangpu District, just two miles away from our school.
A few parents sent angry messages, demanding that classes be canceled. Our school called everyone who lived near the hospitals or shut down neighborhoods and told them not to come. One of those parents sent angry messages, demanding that her son be allowed to go to class. Teachers started wearing masks. The teaching assistants started disinfecting all the rooms.
The rumors started flying. A piano teacher who’d been infected taught over 100 students. Anyone who goes to Huangpu District was going to get a red health code and be quarantined. The government was closing all schools. The government was telling all schools to stay open.
My Chinese teacher told me she went out on Sunday, though, and the streets were empty. People were afraid and staying home.
The Second Wave of COVID-19 in Shanghai is Actually Not that Bad
But that was Sunday. By the time I went to work on Monday, the streets and subways were just as crowded as ever.
Again, the grand total as I write this is 16 locally transmitted cases. All of whom seem to be somehow connected to the first two. Despite the rumors, there aren’t hundreds of infected piano students terrorizing the city.
It seems like they are handling things pretty well. Instead of using a sledgehammer to shut down the entire city, Shanghai is dealing with these outbreaks with a scalpel. Appropriate for a medical issue. They’re tracking down, tracing and testing close contacts. Only buildings and neighborhoods where the virus has been detected are getting closed down.
I went out for lunch today, and rode the subway to the park. The only difference from before is that places asked to see my health code and took my temperature before I went in.
Obviously, things could get bad again in the future. Worst case scenario, we see closures and stay at home orders last what happened last year. However, thus far, it seems like things are under control. I’ll continue going about my business this week with my fingers crossed.
Thus far, the second wave of COVID-19 in Shanghai has turned out to be more of a light splash.
Health Codes and the Future
That’s not to say there won’t be another wave in the future. Chinese New Year is still coming up. There are still going to be a lot of people traveling, despite all the many reasons not to. Those people might bring back some virus with their holiday gifts.
However, I actually think the Chinese government is pretty on top of things. With enough tests and quarantines, they might actually be able to keep another wave under control. There’s always the chance they’re lying about the numbers. I don’t believe it, personally, but who knows. I do think they’ve got a lot of tools at their disposal.
One of the tools they use is this “health code” I’ve been talking about. It’s an app that uses WeChat or Alipay that gives you a QR code that’s either green, yellow, or red. If your code is green, you’re good to go anywhere you normally would be able to. If it’s yellow, you shouldn’t be out and about and need to get back to your quarantine. A red code means you’re probably in the hospital.
I’m not an expert about these things, but I believe the app uses your phone’s location data to determine if you’ve been in a medium or high-risk coronavirus area. Honestly, there are probably some very severe data privacy issues going on here. It might be worth it to sacrifice a little bit of privacy in order to prevent the spread of a highly infectious illness.
They are rolling out vaccines. The first doses have gone to nurses and doctors, obviously. I think they’ve also gotten to bus and taxi drivers. I’m not sure how far down foreign English teachers are on the list. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long.
The Biggest Lesson of the Pandemic
I’ll admit, there is still a part of me that’s rather anxious now that the virus is back in Shanghai. The concept of pandemics and apocalyptic viruses is absolutely terrifying to me. This last year has been stressful, to say the least. The recent scare of a second wave of COVID-19 in Shanghai didn’t help much.
So, maybe I only want to say the Chinese government is doing a good job to reassure myself psychologically. This goddamn coronavirus has gotten so out of control everywhere else in the world. Maybe I just need to hold on to the idea that at least one government is handling things in order to not let myself go crazy.
I’m also trying to really work on letting go of things I can’t control. This is probably the most important lesson of 2020. Sometimes big scary shit happens in the world, and there’s literally absolutely nothing you can do about it. You just kind of have to try and focus on what you can do day to day, and accept that whatever else is going to happen is going to happen.
For me, that means I’m happily complying with all mask regulations and washing my hands more often. I’m also trying to relax and hold on to the hope that this’ll all be over one day.