Life in China Is Getting Better, Still Far From Normal

There’s traffic again on Beijing’s roads. Hordes of people have returned to offices; subway stations around important business areas are crowded. Yet, as these encouraging signs of reanimation are multiplying, there have not been any major changes to the situation in China.

China seems to be steadily emerging from the self-imposed isolation prompted by the spread of COVID-19. Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak, were re-opened after a 76-day lockdown on Wednesday, April 8. Overall, China seems to be doing fairly well compared to the rest of the world. However, most locals are still forced to follow strict quarantine protocols, especially in first-tier cities. And according to local authorities, this might last a while. 

Virtually every residential community in Beijing is still under lockdown, only allowing in local residents who hold valid passes. Temperature checks are on every corner, from convenience stores to office buildings. Many places require visitors to scan a QR code that will display their health status. 

Beijing, as the capital and the political center of China, is different from any other city. On April 5, Xu Hejian, deputy minister of Beijing’s Municipal Party Committee Propaganda Department and director of the Information Office of the Municipal People’s Government, said that it is impossible for the epidemic prevention and control activities in Beijing to completely end in the short-term. It is likely that the current state of affairs will become normalized for an indefinite period of time. Some Chinese netizens saw in Xu’s statement a strong signal that epidemic prevention personnel might remain a constant presence in the city.

Around the same time, China’s State Council issued a notice listing epidemic prevention and control recommendations for several regions. It recommended that low-risk areas operate normally while being regularly ventilated, cleaned and disinfected, while medium- and high-risk areas limit the number of personnel to avoid crowds.

Large-scale gatherings, including sporting events, mass religious activities, exhibitions and conventions have been virtually banned. It was also advised that closed entertainment and leisure places not be opened for the time being. The specific requirements should be determined by local governments based on the local epidemic situation.

However, as local governments continue to delegate to authorities down the hierarchical ladder, inconsistencies in local policies are rampant, as well as recurring cases of discrimination against foreigners and non-locals. Several foreigners have reported being turned away by restaurants, who claimed to be following rules set by their community authorities. Most Chinese arriving in Beijing from other cities have a hard time finding accommodation as most residential complexes refuse to let them in, even if they produce proof of being healthy. 

On April 8, after Wuhan was released from lockdown, Chen Bei, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing Municipal Government, said that Beijing has initiated measures to control the return of workers from Wuhan to the capital. According to preliminary statistics, more than 11,000 people are likely to arrive from the embattled city. Beijing authorities will limit the number of people entering Beijing daily to about 1,000. Persons stranded in Wuhan will be required to perform a nucleic acid test within seven days before returning to Beijing.

Everything is relative, as it usually is, and relative to the rest of the world, China’s situation seems to be closer to resembling normalcy. Yet, the so-called “normalization of epidemic control and prevention measures” that is currently happening in Beijing is certainly far from normal, relative to just three months ago.