It has been two long and tumultuous months since China went for the jugular against the biggest epidemic in its hundred year history. With over 80,000 cases of Coronavirus infection and over 3,000 fatalities, life hasn’t been normal in these eight weeks since the lockdown of Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, and a few other cities in Hubei province. China then carried out a Herculean task of sanitising and quarantining the rest of the country and not letting the virus spread to its 1.4 billion people.
With our panic-stricken friends flying back to India and our immediate family members worried sick, the temptation was to follow suit. But the call of duty as a working media professional and cancellation of paid leaves urged me to stay put in a megapolis that underwent a pathogen-powered metamorphosis to remain in a state of comatose in the last week of January. Well, my life wasn’t that bad even though I was staring at uncertainties, speculating about many unforeseen situations and fearing the worst when the Coronavirus crackdown brought China to a standstill.
I was swimming in an infinite ocean of uncertainty in the first few days after the January 23 shutdown. But the local administration’s meticulous management of public affairs succoured my spirit. There wasn’t any mandatory home stay in the less-affected Chinese capital and there was no restriction on individual movements within the city in the first week that coincided with the Chinese New Year (CNY) holidays. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed in any case like every Spring Festivals while the combat against Coronavirus forced a temporary closure of many public places, including shopping malls, movie theatres, amusement parks and tourist landmarks. But Beijing’s Brobdingnagian network of public transport and app-based taxi-hailing service DiDi were up and running round the clock for the city’s remaining residents.
A dedicated force of sanitation workers were there round the clock to keep the city squeaky clean and uncontaminated while the neighbourhood committees, comprising the disciplined grassroots cadres of the Communist Party of China (CPC) left no stone unturned to maintain the sanity and sanctity of the order from the top.
China’s gargantuan digital economy and mobile payment system helped us sustain ourselves with a steady flow and abundance of all kinds of daily necessities. All these were aided by an immaculate, decisive and disciplined administration that pulled out all the stops to contain the spread of the infectious contagion and ensured its residents, including the remaining foreigners, a safe and hassle-free stay at home. Face masks, sanitisers and disinfectants did fly off the shelves of the small number of shops which were open in the early days of the Spring Festival holidays. But that didn’t last long as all kinds of essential products were back in stock at most of the convenience stores within a week or so. Thanks to China’s massive manufacturing might, humongous supply chain and ginormous delivery network, I being an archetypal meat eating Bengali, had no problem getting a fair amount of meat, fish (frozen salmon was the only option with most of the local wet markets closed. I was too scared to go to the wet markets as I knew the probable origin of the deadly disease was from Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market), vegetables, bakery and dairy products.
No, I didn't have to buy any Darth Vader like super mask with an astronomical price tag, I just grabbed the much-prescribed N95 mask with a steal of a deal. A normal surgical mask, frequently soap-washed hands, my regular non-vegetarian well-done food and maintaining personal hygiene have helped me stay away from the pandemic for over two months now.
At that time, protective face masks became an integrated part of our everyday outdoor clothing. The thermal screening devices held by hazmat suit-clad security personnel were the most common tribes we encountered during our limited outings to fetch daily needs from the handful of convenient stores which were open for a limited period of time each day. For me, it was mostly a walk in the park to go through the uncharacteristically deserted streets and alleys of a megacity of 21 million people as I have acute ochlophobia, fear of crowds.
It wasn’t difficult for me to sustain myself in the Coronavirus-hit Middle Kingdom as I religiously followed the most important and practical World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines like washing hands both at home as well as at work with just soap. I didn’t need to use any hand sanitisers since I spent my days either working in my office or staying home, maintaining the much-needed social distancing.
The most important thing I did was to ignore the so-called life-saving WhatsApp advice by the hundreds of overnight doctors and virologists from the family and social circle, distant relatives, friends, acquaintances and all those round-the-year 'good morning' message-senders. Oh yes, I didn’t dare to experiment with cow urine and many other quirky quick-fix solutions suggested by self-proclaimed spiritual leaders and social media quacks back home. In the end, the two critical months just flew past like a breeze.
(Suvam Pal is a Beijing-based media professional and author)