Let’s start from the message:
“We are people. All of us regards our origin. We are experience disasters around the world. Sometimes people are responsible for these things and sometimes it caused by natural causes. It doesn’t matter where it happens and what was root caused a disaster. We should help each other in sad times. Help matters because being together is one of the most critical aspects for the human race to survive and live. I know, it is sometimes hard due to all personal experience, history and due to fake news but it is worth to help each other. We need to understand that peoples, organisations and governments can make mistakes, while they are fixing a problem. Sometimes our minor sacrifice is an important step to help.“
This article is about how the situation looks like from western European guy from Poland, who usually is living in the UK and happen to be in China when they things get fast-paced.
I will write about coronavirus a bit and how this outbreak compares to typical every year flu outbreak. I will write about what is going in China based on observation of the situation in Tianjin and how things are handled. I will write about how people feel about the situation and how looks life. I will mention a few bits about Wuhan.
Just to set expectation right:
This article is written from my point of view. I am NOT a doctor or specialist regards virus. I have no authority or expertise to be a source of the truth. My understanding of this subject based on what officially government and scientists said. I am not planning to judge the effectiveness of action performed as I have no ultimate knowledge on how to solve this kind of problems. I will not judge the Chinese and other governments on action taken. I will not talk about politics here. However, I will throw some shitstorm against some western media.
This article focus on shows life with focus on understanding all sides involed in this story. It means, this article will be not feature blame (with one exception). I will try to point out where culture difference will cause misunderstanding and I will write very compressed introduction to culture difference between China and other countries. Unfortunately, I will need to write a book to explain details with examples to be able to educate appropriately.
Just to clarify. I am not talking here about people’s drama as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
I feel sorry for all Chinese people affected as a result of this outbreak during their most important holiday, where for many it is only time to see their relatives. It is heartbreaking; I hope the rest of the rat year reward you for this suffering.
About virus, statistics and comparison to a typical Flu outbreak.
[CORRECTION]. I tried to make a point in this section, but I made a mistake. The situation is very dynamic. It will get worse over the next few weeks, but at the time of writing(end of January, when I was writing this section), this outbreak is not too dangerous. As with any illness that can result in a fatality, we need to be careful but not paranoid about the upcoming apocalypse. I decided to choose the Flu, instead of previous outbreaks. The first fatality rate is 2%, not 0.2%, so it is much higher, but my point still holds against sars. Again, I want to repeat; the situation is dynamic, and things will change quickly.this paragraph can and will be out of date soon if not now, while I publish this correction. I left this as is because that how I felt when I was written this article and I am still careful and I am not try to catch it but not worried too much about it. Thanks to Peter and Anna to point out this to me!
Flu outbreaks usually kill 0.1-0.4% infected people, and it kills up to 250000 per year (I heard numbers from 100k to 650k but what they count vary). As of the end of January, 259 people died, and 11812 was diagnosed.
It gives 0.2% of deaths per diagnosed, and it is similar or lower in comparison to flu. Most of these people who died had already known for other health problems. Based on these results, this is less deadly than typical flu outbreak. It means, it is It is just a typical epidemy, and there is nothing catastrophic about it. At least at time of writing.
If it comes to the worst and you are unlucky to get this virus then based on current results, you will recover relatively quickly. Just in case the flu and this virus are two different things.
It doesn’t mean you need to be careless. Health is the most precious thing we have and don’t take for granted.
Story on how I end up in China.
I am currently in China. A few days before the flight, I was busy with work, sort out various things and preparing for my holiday. I don’t follow the news carefully these days for multiple reasons. While I was aware of some the epidemy happen in China, I didn’t think about check severity of the problem. I was blinded by the excitement of flying, holidays, and I was looking forward to enjoying the Chinese new year (also known as Spring festival).
When we landed, a few days later, my return flight was cancelled, and when I discover, I will have a problem to go back with my family. At the time of writing, we hope to back on 17 February, but due to the situation in Hong Kong, it may be impossible soon. It means I am stuck until 17 February, but I may stay here for longer. Much longer.
I got a lot of messages asking about the situation in China because people heard terrifying news and it sounds like upcoming apocalypse. I checked a few western sites, and most of them are full catastrophic titles and unbelieve stories about chaos and forthcoming doom. Meanwhile, in China, people focus on the battle with the outbreak and “Keep calm and carry on”.
The biggest problem with this outbreak
I mentioned in the beginning about shitstorm against media. I will not provide an example of what the press wrote and how it looks like in reality. I know that real journalism does not exist in mainstream media anymore as real journalism is about representing facts from both sites and provide possible interpretation so that people can make an opinion about the subject. Sadly I accepted the fact that what brings traffic and revenue from it are articles with clickbaity title, a content that is talking about the subject controversially. The best stories are these that create a fear that force people to keep coming for more information. It is a known technique that feared people are easier to control and manipulate by creating and as a result, in it increase traffic to the news website. The quality of the information can’t deliver that. Corporations own news, and they have a stakeholder to pleased with growth and revenue, not the quality of the content. As I mentioned above, I could spend hours on this, but it is not worth it. What is worth it and this is to tell you how it looks like from my perspective. I will finish the subject of media with this.
The worst thing about this outbreak is the fake news, haters and media who spread fake news and write in the way that it creates fear in people who react in a wrong way toward people affected. It is a much bigger and more dangerous virus than coronavirus.
What is happening in China at the moment?
China does what is possible to stop the spread in their way. The main focus is on Wuhan and province. They built a few hospitals to handle the load. They are also preparing other regions to fight with an outbreak (I will give an example later on when I talk about Tianjin). In the TV, they provide update daily about people died and infected. Remember, this is known numbers; they are many people who haven’t been diagnosed yet, so the real number is much higher. In case if you wonder is China trying to hide real numbers is no, this is typical of these kind outbreaks.
Chinese television focused on to provide lots of information about wat’s going on and what are the next steps. Usually, when incidents like this happen, there is much more secrecy around it. I am a bit surprised by this; I hope this will become a norm as it is a massive improvement. There is a lot of information available everywhere on TV, social media and in the building.
In general, when this kind of event happen, it takes time to establish facts and allow the government of that country to react. Some countries are doing things faster because they smaller or better developed and some are much slower. As a typical communist government, China is very sensitive about what and how information about this kind of epidemy is spread. Historically, they weren’t particularly in a rush, and they have a completely different approach to this kind of situation. In comparison to the past, this time the government reacting much faster and it is much less aggressive to fight with news about it. For me, it is a big surprise and a good one. I am glad; they learn that being more transparent. Did they react perfectly? No. Could they do better? Yes. Could they respond faster? Wuhan’s local government, yes. If this happens anywhere else in the world, is the outcome will better? Most likely, NO! Remember, China is one of the biggest countries in the world. It has 1.4 billion people, so it is not a trivial task to manage this kind of outbreak on such a massive territory.
The Chinese government extend holidays, and various companies extended holidays even more to avoid the usual ‘Chinese migration wave’ movement across the whole of China. The idea is to reduce the number of people who are travel back home. In some places, people are allowed to work from home until the situation is under control. They want help to reduce the number of people who travel to/from work.
The current prediction is that next 2-4 weeks will be a peak time for this epidemy and then it should start to decline.
What is happening in Tianjin where I am?
At the time of writing, Tianjin has the lowest infection number from all the biggest cities.
Life in the city looks almost normal. It is much quieter than usual because people listen to instructions that are given. I can’t imagine this kind of things happen in the UK or Poland when people have an opinion and they always have known better than experts. Almost all people wearing the mask and most foreigners wearing a mask, but some don’t.
I can do most stuff. I can go for a walk; I am still receiving the delivery with most stuff.
Entrance to our building is well-staffed, and security ensure that only people who live in the building can get entry, they check the temperature of all guest and some other people. The only inconvenience is that delivery is left at the gate, so you need pickup by yourself. I must say, security people, have a very tough job at the moment. The whole building has been clean regularly, and I have never seen cleaners so often before. Everywhere are instructions on what to do to avoid infection and what to do if you have an infection.
Are any restrictions that affect me badly? All good restaurants are closed, so no excellent hotpot or anything like that. Attractions are closed, but the local pub was open.
The public transport is working but is less frequent, and buses seem to transport air. Some taxi drivers are very creative in separate themself from passengers. It is a shame; I did not catch a picture of that. I can’t make any of my trips like travel on all metro station in Tianjin or take a slow train to Beijing (due to safety rather than because I am not allowed to).
In terms of city preparations to outbreak, in Tianjin, there is one hospital which is specialising in treat patient with coronavirus. They are three more hospitals that are preparing to be backup hospitals in case uncontrolled spread. They are also making quarantined areas (hotels?) for people who are sick but do not require to be hospitalised and can’t self-quarantine themself at home.
They are trying to prioritise work to ensure that hospitals are not overloaded and provide help to people that are needed. Everybody is trying to do their best to slow down spreading and eliminate the infection.
What are the problem people facing?
Most popular items like mask are sold out.
Many good quality cleaning items are sold out.
The prices of food went up, and in some local shop, tomato can cost up to 20 yuans even if for good once you will pay 8 yuan in D-mart (shop with imported stuff) while it usually costs 3-4 yuans. However, most stuff costs the same.
How China and Chinese people dealing with this outbreaks?
- I admire Chinese people that they follow the orders. It is causing them so many problems, stress and inconvenience. They accept this restriction calmly because they feel that it helps fight coronavirus. It is a reason why there is no strikes or riots is demanding human rights to allow these people to go to the quarantine area so they can be infected and spread this to others. People in China use brains, but sadly “internet’s expert warriors” don’t.
- I heard frustration from a few Chinese friends about people who eat wild animals and caused such chaos. They wish that these places be better controlled. I understand it, but it is near impossible to stop it in the country of the size of China to control who eats what and it will take time to change these habits. While we are subject of eating, let’s me explain something about food. One of the things you learn when you meet people from all of the world is that the definition of what is normal to eat is different in different cultures due to different food available in a different part of the world. Only because something is not normal for you to eat, doesn’t mean it is not normal around the world. Eating habit changes even in the country itself over a generation. Let’s give you an interesting example. Some of my polish friends couldn’t believe some people eat pigeon soup and couldn’t think about how anyone could eat pidgeon or drink pidgeon soup. I asked them to ask their parents or grandparents, and they were shocked to hear that their family members like it.
- The Chinese people are anxious about the effect on the economy. I know many businesses earn most of the money during the Chinese new year period, and this must be a disaster for them. The restaurants get bad hits as they are empty for a few weeks now. It will be horrible for small family businesses.
- Cleaners have a tough life now! They work all the time tirelessly. I have never seen cleaner in the building where we are staying so often. BIG THANK YOU to all of you for your hard work. They have a timesheet that should update it every hour, and it is updated every hour. In the UK, I see this timesheet too, expect they are updated every a few hours.
- The most restriction apply to travels around Wuhan and province. In many places, security checking your temperature. The one of the thing that you may found strange that now you need ID to buy any medicine that has to affect on reducing fever.
- Even if wrote, they accept things calmly, it doesn’t mean they are calm. The society that is very vigilant and superstitious react more extreme to events than others. Based on what the media wrote, they seem to panic more than China. Back to China. Some people got paranoid about it and did crazy things. One of them suggests for example, that you should clean your aircon with alcohol and somebody did, and it caused a fire in the building (luckily nobody died). There is a lot of stories like that. My point is to give people all the information they need and prevent people from spreading fake news not to laugh about people who believe in fake news.
The situation in Wuhan
I will not comment too much on the Wuhan situation because I am not there.
The information about Wuhan based purely on what my and my wife friends that happen to be.
Life, for most people, didn’t change much. The street is empty, and for a short time, there was a problem with food and prices. There are some problems but nothing major that will change their mind and evacuate from Wuhan. The Wuhan is cut off from the rest of China and travelling in Hubei province is very restricted, which is excellent to reduce the ability to spread. The drawback is numbers of infected will jump by factors rather than times.
However, none of my friends didn’t try to leave Wuhan.
People stayed at home and avoided contact to prevent being infected or spread a virus. There is a lot of information everywhere what to do.
I have no idea how looks the situation in hospitals, but based on ‘what other people said’, I heard it is challenging.
I am not against isolating Wuhan from the rest of the world. It is not a solution for the problem, but it slows down spreading to some extent, and if it helps (even if it is psychological purposes) then it makes sense. I saw some stuff on some parts of the internet that people who are passionate about human rights screaming on social media about that these people deserve the right to go wherever they want to go. I never heard that humans rights give the freedom to spread sickness to others.
If you are fighting for humans right for stranded people in Wuhan, then please don’t. You are not helping as you just spread hate and fake news.
About situation of foreigners in China.
On the media, you can find lots of ‘horror’ stories, and there are worst-case scenarios, and most of them are real even if they very exaggerated. I could also point out what they did wrong that put them into much more trouble. However, I understand what they went through and how very stressful is being stranded in China as a foreigner. It is much harder if you don’t look familiar with culture difference and how China functions as a nation. Some Chinese enforcement does things that are not understandable due to culture difference. They are also under a lot of pressure. You need to understand both sides of this challenging situation.
Let’s me explain something. China and their relationship with foreign countries are complicated. To explain that it will require book-length explanation and this post is long enough so I will give you a few sentences with obstacles that China faces with dealing with foreigners.
- China is a communist country, and this is not very compatible government system with others. You need to understand why to coping with ‘communist’ style bureaucracy.
- China used to be isolated from the outside world, so people do not have experience with dealing with foreigners. They have a lot to learn, and this will take time, and people need to adapt to. It is a long and challenging process. It is a problem for many countries like Poland. I am from Poland, and for my country, a lot of things changed to better since we joined EU, but a lot still to learn and do in people’s mentality.
- It is considered an evil nation in western countries, so it is hard for Chinese people to be interested in countries and culture that hates them. As well Chinese point of view on the world do not help either.
- I just touch a few elements without even going into details, and there is much more. China made some good progress and some steps back too in recent years. It means it is not too easy to be a foreigner in China.
That said, foreigners who I know, they decided to stay are OK, even in Wuhan. They don’t have more problems than other Chinese people.
And the last few things:
- I heard about some ‘racist’ attacks against Chinese looking people, but I can’t verify this at present, so I am not sure is another clickbait revenue trick from various media and fake news content creators or not. I want to write this. We are experience disasters around the world very often. Sometimes people are responsible for these things and sometimes it caused by natural causes. It doesn’t matter Earthquakes that damaged Fukushima, bushfires in Australia or terrorist attack. Ordinary people deserve our support mentally, via social media, monetary or via visit this place as a tourist. In all cases, people who are affected requires our compassion and support because empathy is what keeps us together as humans race and make the world a better place. That said, I saw many people around the world show support, and I am glad that happens.
After I wrote this, I read a news that my Chinese teacher from the university was the victim of verbal attack from a small amount of trader in the market hall after she back from a holiday in Taiwan because people were afraid she bring the virus from Wuhan. That’s so sad. I am proud of how she reacts to this whole situation.
- I understand that some incident happens because people fear of being infected and it is a natural defensive system. If somebody behaves in a hateful way but realise the mistake and apologise. That’s the best solution. There is no need to spread hate. It is good to hear that victims of these attack get support in some incidents, and I hope it will become the norm.
- One thing on a personal note. My experience with BA’s customer service is usually stressful. I mean Twitter one is always crap. However, this time it was excellent. There was an option for people who travel to/from China, and they were no queue, so somebody picked up call straight away. I managed to rebook all my family together to fly back (even if I need to downgrade class). I am not sure did I made the right choice, but I was informed very well during that process. I hope I don’t need to rebook again and I can fly this time.
- Take away food now contains information what staff doing to ensure that they protect themself with some cute notes.I will add pictures to this post after I back to UK.
- If you are interested how looks flight from Beijing during COVID-19 then check my next post: https://dominiksymonowicz.com/2020/02/20/the-cathay-dragon-economy-class-from-beijing-to-hong-kong-during-the-covid-2019-outbreak-flight-experience/
What is the most worrying thing for me?
I feel good in China at the moment, and while I am careful not to catch the virus, I have a pretty normal life here even if I can’t do a few things.
I am a bit worried about my flight back to the UK. First, due to the situation in Hong Kong, short connection time, flying with people who may spread the virus and flying 18 hours with my three years old son and what will happen on the border.
What worry me most is … life after back to the UK. I am worried about how people treat my wife, who is Chinese. My worry increased after things happen to my Chinese teacher from university back in Wales. I am worried about sending my son back to the nursery.
Yes, I am less worried about virus and more about going back and problems that I may encounter in the UK.
The virus is not as deadly as it is advertised in the western media. In Tianjin, people “Keep calm and carry on” while western media shit their pants. Yes, some people facing problems, some of them overact and do things, they shouldn’t or are over creative. The people are worried about the economy and their business.
Yes, I am stuck in China for the next two weeks, and I hope to back with my family to a home in 2 weeks. I am anxious about my wife and my son after we back. It makes me feel sorrow to see how Chinese people are suffering, and I am glad to see how they are trying to comply with all things to help fight that epidemy. I wish all Chinese people (and all others) to be healthy and have a happy rat year.
We are people. All of us regards our origin. We are experience disasters around the world. Sometimes people are responsible for these things and sometimes it caused by natural causes. It doesn’t matter where it happens and what was root caused a disaster. We should help each other in sad times. Help matters because being together is one of the most critical aspects for the human race to survive and live. I know, it is sometimes hard due to all personal experience, history and due to fake news but it is worth to help each other. We need to understand that peoples, organisations and governments can make mistakes, and it is not about the blame but about fixing a problem. Sometimes our minor sacrifice is an important step to help. However, spreading hate, fake news and earn money of the tragedy does not help.
I want to say thank you to all the people who ask about my family and me.
I want to say thank you all the people who help Chinese and anybody affected by this virus.
I want to say big thank you to doctors, nurses, cleaners, security, delivery people and to be honest everybody who works tirelessly to help and keep life as normal as it can be.
Let’s hope these things finish sooner rather than later.
I wanted to write more and expand this article even more, but it has more 4000 words already.
Thanks for reading and stay humble, healthy and happy!
- Update 1 on 9.2’2020. Add correction, as I wrote fatality rate is 0.2% not 2% and explain what point i tried to make. Add information about what take away.
- Update 2 on 28.2’2020. Add links to resources. Add links to my other post about flight from Beijing to Hong Kong. Add pictures.