LIFE IN BEIJING DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Twelve new WeChat notifications just arrived on my phone. It's a new WeChat group made to invite friends to a colleague's birthday party at a bar in downtown Beijing. A night out in a crowded bar would raise eyebrows and concerns in most of the world today. Here in Beijing, it's just another typical day living an overall post-COVID-19 life.
As the world works to suppress the COVID-19 pandemic, China has been back to normalcy for quite a while now. Remnants of the virus are still present, but the storm has largely passed. It feels particularly special to be living in China today, witnessing a society of great success. Many people wonder what it was like in China when the pandemic first began and what daily life is like today. Here's a glimpse of the everyday life in Beijing during COVID-19.
The pandemic alarms first began to ring in Beijing in January 2020. No one was certain about what was happening or what would start to unfold shortly. Houhai English was set to begin the winter camp session after the Chinese New Year holiday.
My boyfriend and I embarked on our journey to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where we made plans to spend the holiday. It was January 24. On our way to the airport, everyone was already taking precautions. People were wearing masks on the subway, and we were, too.
Once we arrived in Phnom Penh, people were beginning to wear masks, too. By January 28, all Houhai English classes were suspended. China was starting to shut down. People began to return to the cities after the Chinese New Year holiday to get back to work, while others stayed where they were. My boyfriend and I decided to stay in Phnom Penh until more information was reported.
Meanwhile, friends and family back home in the US were still a bit perplexed by it all. Everything was new, but there was no sign of shutdowns or precautions taken back home in the states.
My boyfriend and I got to Beijing March 01, 2020. At first, it seemed like it would be risky going back to China because that's where the virus was most prevalent. Soon, it became clear that China was the safest place to be.
Entering China again was a whole process. We had to write out a detailed travel history to provide customs. Our body temperatures were consistently taken while traveling back to China. If you had a temperature higher than 37.8 °C, you could not enter China. It was amazing seeing our temperatures displayed on screens as we walked through customs. Masks were mandatory. Quarantine was in place. It was surreal speaking to a friend flying back home to the US, where no such precautions were in place. I couldn't believe the drastic difference in precautions between the countries. I wanted to cry out, "People, there's a virus spreading, don't you care?"
Arriving back in Beijing late at night was an eerie experience. Beijing was a ghost town. Guards were standing at each of the entrances to our neighborhood. They asked for our identification and housing paperwork. Only residences of the community could enter. They also took our temperature, which would soon become mandatory when entering just about anywhere.
March 2 was the start of our quarantine, along with the beginning of our first Houhai English online classes. All the suspended winter classes resumed online. We were required to quarantine at home for fourteen days. We could not leave our home. Thankfully, Beijing has incredible delivery services, which allowed us to order anything we needed from the vast selection of supermarkets and restaurants.
Everything was shut down in March. Each day, we were to report our body temperatures to the local community center. It felt relieving that the matter was taken very seriously, which made us feel safer. Finally, when our fourteen-day quarantine was over, we headed outside to check things out. The streets were all empty.
Fast forward a few months, we could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses started to open up, the parks began to fill, and things were looking optimistic. Even with the optimism, all schools remained closed, and people were still required to wear masks everywhere. Whenever entering any business, we had our temperatures taken, and we were also required to display and scan our health kit. The health kit is an app on WeChat which says you have not been in any high-risk areas and are COVID free.
In July, there was a small outbreak in Fengtai District in southern Beijing. As a result, Fengtai was shut down. Mass nucleic acid testing was immediately administered to all residents in the surrounding areas. It was amazing to see how quickly the government acted to suppress any outbreak.
In the fall of 2020, all students finally went back to school. We were back in the classroom! Precautions were still taken. All students entering campus had their temperatures checked. Masks remained mandatory in schools, shopping malls, markets, and the subway. Looking at the USA from China was a very perplexing experience. People were arguing against wearing masks, while in China, it was always foolish not to.
Today, Beijing is Covid free. If a case pops up, it is most likely an imported case from abroad. The government continues to monitor patients closely. One case of COVID can lead to a lockdown. It's Incredible what a grasp China has on controlling the virus with the world's second-highest population! Vaccinations are being administered across the country. Chinese nationals were the first to receive the vaccination. Foreign nationals studying and working in cities like Beijing and Shanghai have recently been included on the list of those who can receive COVID-19 vaccine shots locally made.
Seeing everyone comply with China's health standards has been a testament to the power of community and teamwork. Masks are no longer required for open-air activities, but people still voluntarily wear them. Masks are still needed when entering and riding the subway, along with a few various in-door spaces.
Daily life in Beijing today is back to the new normal. Even with no trace of COVID in the city, health continues to be monitored throughout the city. Business is booming, and everyone is back to work. It feels great to be part of a society with such a great emphasis on working together for the greater good.