Premium

Guarded optimism and poodles in face masks: A postcard from China after three months of coronavirus

Beijing, dog face mask
It's not unusual to see dogs wearing face masks in Beijing Credit: NOEL CELIS

A三级成人视频s the UK hunkers down, puts the kettle on and braces itself for what’s to come, in China we’re emerging from our burrows and blinking in the spring sunshine.

三级成人视频The vibe in the Middle Kingdom is one of guarded optimism; that the worst of the virus is behind us. It’s taken almost two months of unprecedented, coordinated action the likes of which, one imagines, few other countries would have the resources or stomach for.

Wuhan in Hubei province, a city surely forever to be stigmatized with Covid-19三级成人视频, was sealed off on January 23, two days before Chinese New Year. In Beijing, under snowy skies, the Forbidden City heaved closed its mighty vermillion gates, living up to its name once again a century after it ceased to be a palace and became a public museum. This year marks its 600th birthday celebrations, but the bunting is still in the box.

The first snow in China during the Year of the Rat Credit: 2020 VCG/VCG

The Year of the Rat scurried in with an inaudible squeak. After some debate, my partner’s extended family opted not to cancel the annual New Year shindig in Xuchang, a city in Henan province bordering Hubei, and so ensued a chaotic day of dumplings, drunkenness, mah-jong and the giving of red envelopes stuffed with cash.

三级成人视频Apart from one daring dinner party since, that was the last time I did anything fun, I realise as I write this. At the risk of sounding facetious, coronavirus is bloody boring.

In Beijing, where I live, we’ve been shielded from the worst of it. Official figures report just eight deaths and 496 cases in an area covering some 20 million people. It’s a different story in Hubei province, 600 miles to the south, still barricaded off from the rest of China.

There, under perpetual lockdown, disillusionment simmers, despite Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s choreographed visit on March 10, a move to show the Party has got the virus under control. Now, the enemy is without, not within. With cases in China flatlining, the majority of new infections are ‘imported’ – people coming back to China, mostly students and workers deciding that the homeland is a safer prospect than remaining in Europe, Southeast Asia or the United States.

Seeing everyone taking precautions is exceedingly reassuring for writer Thomas O'Malley Credit: STR

三级成人视频Schools are starting to reopen in some provinces, to the gasping relief of parents. Not yet in Beijing, though, judging by the factions of masked boys waging war with their toy guns in my compound. At least some people are having fun. The apartment complex where I live, called Noble Quadrangle, has become a protected little kingdom, off-limits for non-residents. It’s the same story across the country. For many, the short walk to the front gate to collect packages or takeaway meals is their only daily flirtation with the outside.

Winter jasmine, apricot and peach blossom bloom in blissfully quiet Jingshan Park Credit: Costfoto / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing/Barcroft Media

After my years here, I’ve realised that Chinese people aren’t too dissimilar to us Britons. They won’t balk at the prospect of a comfy sofa, copious cups of tea, wearing pyjamas all day and getting cosy in front of a TV box set. The lockdown, arriving as it did in winter during the Chinese New Year break, meant that the country had already decompressed.

三级成人视频Imagine if the gap between Boxing Day and January 2 was extended for two months, and you get a sense of the drawn-out inertia that has reigned in China since, at least for most of the country not severely affected. Two months of hand-washing, sofa-lounging, rolling news-addicted monotony. Wake up, check the latest infection rates, make coffee. I now believe that slavishly reading every news update is potentially worse for one’s well-being that contracting the damn virus in the first place.

Members of a local neighborhood committee wear protective masks as they stand guard at a barricade placed to control people entering and exiting a local hutong Credit: 2020 Getty Images/Kevin Frayer

三级成人视频For about a month now, Noble Quadrangle has been allotted its own, for want of a better word, bouncer. Heavyset, brusque, with that characteristic judgemental smirk, it’s like Davinci’s in Tunbridge Wells circa 1995 has come back to haunt me. Only this bloke isn’t scrutinizing footwear, but what’s on your face. In China, everybody wears a mask covering the nose and mouth.

三级成人视频While not strictly mandatory, if you opt out, the sour looks and nervous sidesteps will make you regret it. Recently, I took my five-month old daughter for a walk in her pram. Clearly, she’s too little to don a mask, I thought. We passed a lady coming in the other direction, pushing a pushchair. In it was a poodle. Wearing a mask. It was only the first of two masked dogs I’d see that day.

Assuming every person (and their dog) has a mask in China, that’s a billion or so that hospitals could be making use of elsewhere in the world. In all honesty, though, seeing everyone taking precautions is exceedingly reassuring. I think I can speak for my fellow supermarket shoppers and say that we’re all very grateful to each other for masking up.

三级成人视频Life in China doesn’t quite feel like it’s returning to normal; more like a new normal. For one thing, there are no tourists. The Great Wall is walled off. Shanghai Disneyland has ordered Mickey and Minnie to work from home. Anyone coming into the capital now, whether from elsewhere in China or overseas, is required to submit to two weeks of quarantine, most likely at a government facility, with family members confined to separate rooms.

Understandably, people are staying away. In recent days we’ve visited a blissfully quiet Jingshan Park, strolling past the spot where the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty hanged himself from a tree as rebels stormed the gates. We took a Didi (China’s Uber) to the mall, sitting behind a polythene sheet jerry-rigged between the front and back seats. We were the only customers in a Japanese restaurant, ordering grilled mackerel from a pared-back menu and drinking cold Asahi, baby snoozing in the pram.

三级成人视频The mechanical efficiency with which China has deployed containment and quarantine has been formidable. Everywhere in Beijing, community volunteers in red armbands police access to side streets, alleyways and residential compounds. The lane connecting Noble Quadrangle to the main road has been gated off. We must flash a special pass (only issued to residents) and have our temperature taken every time we come and go.

Cars have their boots inspected for fugitives, after news emerged of a stowaway who made it all the way from Wuhan to Beijing. A historian friend pointed out that it’s like a return to Qing dynasty days, when every hutong (Beijing’s inner-city lanes) had its own gates, and aliens were kept at bay by the nightwatch.

三级成人视频In dark moods I look at the red armband gatekeepers, zapping people with their temperature pistols, and think, ‘you’re loving this, aren’t you?’. On several occasions I’ve been required to scan a QR code with my Chinese phone, which instantly divulges my whereabouts during the past two weeks.

It’s tempting to imagine part of the government relishing this opportunity to roll out swingeing population controls on a level even China’s authoritarian leadership, with its formidable surveillance apparatus, wouldn’t have dreamed of before. Covid-19 might not end up killing too many, in the scheme of things, but it might have silenced any lingering calls for the right to privacy in China.

And yet, the stoicism, fortitude and good humour of Chinese people through the worst of this crisis has been hugely inspiring. The dragon wags its tail and people deal with the fallout. I was moved almost to tears by videos showing the haunting shouts of ‘Go Wuhan’ echoing from forests of monolithic apartment blocks at night in the stricken city. And, on a lighter note, the clips revealing the creative ways people are enduring the desperate isolation, like dance-offs with neighbours in opposite apartments, or mates pretending to hand each other cigarettes between video chat windows.

If there’s anything two months of Covid-19 in China has revealed to me (apart from how to attach a surgical mask on a dog), it’s that what makes life worth living, above all else, is spending time with other people. As someone inclined to shun company and embrace solitude (less so since the baby, admittedly), I’ve learned something about myself.

Which makes me dare to hope that, at the end of all this unnatural social-distancing, Covid-19 might just bring us all a bit closer together.