Shenzhen’s First 60 Days Since COVID-19 Outbreak: From Crisis to Normalcy

As someone who grew up in China, lived in US for the past 7+ years, and recently returned to China, I have continuously been overwhelmed by a mix of complex emotions from the overflowing information since the very first day of coronavirus outbreak. Since then, there is no doubt that the virus has grown to be pandemic impacting billions of lives all around the world. From the lack of leadership within major governments to racism, xenophobia, and media bias, there have been so many topics I wanted to slap about with anger and disappointment. However, I also realized what we, as one humankind, do not need is pointing fingers at each other and putting the blame on others, because let’s face it – we’re all in this together. Like it or not, despite differences in ideologies or political preferences, the only weapon to get us through is united effort. No single country can be an isolated island embracing the victory while others are falling from the cliff in this global public health crisis. Again, it is time to admit we’re vulnerable human beings and there’s no other way out than staying together.

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Hence, I want to share my experience in Shenzhen during the first 60 days of the COVID-19 outbreak, the city I recently moved back to after accumulating seven years of education and professional experiences in the New England area. Shenzhen is one of the largest cities in China with more than eight million in population. It was the second most impacted city outside of Hubei province measured by the number of confirmed cases. Over the course of less than two months, the number of new cases dropped to 1 or 2 per week, and most of the economic activity resumed. Looking down to the overpass from the 31st floor of Tencent Binhai Building, for the first time in my life, I was so glad to see traffic jams and crowded roads. What has Shenzhen, both its people and major corporations/government, done correctly to make it happen? What are the valuable lessons for countries that are suffering now? Here are some of my perspectives.

1. Self-quarantine: the public should realize everyone can be a source of infection and the government should put a strict policy in place

One of the most ignorant arguments circulating about COVID-19 I’ve seen is: if you’re young and healthy, don’t panic, you don’t need quarantine, you’re not affected. Well, simply because young people are less likely to die from coronavirus doesn’t make them less of a walking source of infection. With the possible 14-day incubation period and varying degrees of symptoms, young people can carry it around and spread the virus to the vulnerable without even knowing it. I’ve heard policymakers advocating to ban gathering for elderly above 50-years-old but not others, but why is it hard to understand that the source of virus can be someone below 50-years-old as well? True, your grandma is better off not going to meet her friends, but it will not safeguard her from the danger if you’re still walking around everywhere and come back home to have dinner with her. Everyone should avoid external human contact for at least 14 days, which is just enough time for those who are infected to be identified. Even if you think you’re strong and healthy, then don’t do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones.

Shenzhen made it a mandatory policy for anyone who has traveled/had potential to be in contact with affected individuals to quarantine at home for at least 14 days. Communities and neighborhoods organized guards and gatekeepers to prevent outsiders from entering. All schools and kindergartens were closed; most of the grocery stores and restaurants were not allowed to dine in; and a temperature test needed to be taken before any contact with service people. I returned to Shenzhen from Beijing on January 30, along the journey from the gate of the airport to my apartment door, my temperature was taken at least six times. Tencent‘s WeChat launched city health codes that asked residents to report their locations everyday in order to get a pass to enter their neighborhoods. (Okay before you’re jumping to the conclusion that it’s creepy surveillance, let’s just also acknowledge that it worked, in a time of emergency).

2. Wear face masks whenever you’re not alone, not only to protect yourself, but to be responsible for others.

Respiratory transmission is the primary way COVID-19 spreads between humans. Face masks do help. I understand that there’s a shortage of medical mask supplies and we should try to save those for people in need, but at least try to have some degree of face mask protection if you’re not self-quarantining.

Shenzhen posted “You Must Wear Mask In Public” everywhere on the street since day one. The public also raised awareness of the necessity. There is a close to 100% compliance rate to that rule, because people volunteer to do so, for their own benefits. I went to a supermarket last week, and, shame on me, I put my mask in my pocket while shopping indoors. Immediately, someone approached me and kindly asked me to put my mask back on, and I appreciated it. People will point fingers at individuals who walk around without a mask, because the community has imposed this social rule on everyone to safeguard each other.

I went for a run at Shenzhen Bay Park last Sunday. Glad to see people are comfortable to be out now but still wear masks to be safe.

3. Government and corporations should step up to standardize work-from-home and cautiously consider a return-to-work policy.

Under the time of uncertainty and chaos, firms are obligated to formulate work policies for companies to protect employees’ health, and to not do so is simply a lack of decisive leadership. Shenzhen government made a schedule and process to follow for different industries and types of companies depending on the nature of business and company size. Most of companies extended Chinese New Year for another week or two and implemented a work-from-home policy for another two weeks. After offices were opened again, companies firstly designed a system for employees to take shifts to avoid large crowds in office. While most of the industries are now entirely back to the office, some industries (for example, gym studios) are still waiting for policy changes to reopen.

There is also clear guidance about sanitization for companies to follow after their doors are re-opened. Disinfection schedules are posted and checked by all for the purpose of transparency; central internal air-circulating systems are shut down; windows on every office floors are required to remain open. Those standardized regulations ensure all companies, regardless of their scale and knowledge on sanitization, have a standard process to increase safety.

In the end, I want to empathize with all of you who are reading this post. I feel and share your frustration. It sucks that life seems to be put on pause, and you miss your favorite football match or broadway musical. But remember, we’re all in this together. Temporary self-restraint will pay off when the spring finally comes.