China has reported its first COVID-19 deaths since January 2021, a pair of elderly patients in eastern Jilin, the worst-hit province, which has logged nearly 80% of the recent outbreak. Both had underlying conditions and mild symptoms of COVID, health authorities say.
The current COVID wave in China may actually be a silver lining we’ve all been waiting for, some whisper with bated breath. Less than 0.1% of the cases are in severe or critical condition, likely giving government officials and health authorities food for thought. Previously health expert Dr. Zhong Nanshan said for China to open to tourism without quarantine again, at least two conditions must be met: other countries have a handle on their COVID situations, and the fatality rate was less than 0.1% of cases. Experts also predicted that this open situation could come by 2023, now only nine months, or in Chongqing, one long summer and a short winter away.
In fact, China has already changed its COVID policy for the first time in two years, where only serious cases of COVID-19 are hospitalized, and all mild cases are simply held in a hotel-like quarantine facility to control spread. These are all seen as good news for the end of the pandemic.
As Jilin and surrounding areas lockdown, affecting an estimated 24 million people, my old colleague Michael is doing his part. After receiving a call to attend a meeting at his downtown Shanghai, high school, all staff was asked to stay on campus for 48 hours for COVID testing. Forty-eight hours later, it was extended to another 14 days. Two weeks of Netflix or Iqiyi, Switch games, board games, and relaxing for a forced holiday, and then, hopefully, back to school, although he’s told me he wouldn’t be surprised if they went online for the rest of the semester.
The news all hits us like a steady stream of thuds, but hey, the weather is great, spring has quickly turned to summer, with an average temperature between 25-30 degrees, but in Chongqing, we’ve been a little tense for the past week or two. Eight positive cases at a local business college in the high tech district have spread out to more than 40 cases around the city, with various shopping malls and restaurants closed down, some teacher friends switching to online classes. On a hot Sunday, my friend Jacob is waiting in a line a hundred people long to get cleared to resume duty at his Kindergarten. Another professor, Parker, has had several mandatory tests and still switched to online classes.
We’ve stepped up security at our school: no guests, no socializing off campus, and masks on from the gates to the classroom. Like the last few outbreaks, we all hope that the local government can isolate, track and trace and nip this in the bud, but this is the highly infectious Omicron, so nothing is for certain.
We’re taking a safe approach for most of us who aren’t in an actual lockdown, such as friends in Beibei who are employing a ‘no one leave, no one enter’ community police. We’ve learned from the past that smart district by district lockdowns give maximum freedom. We missed Jessica’s birthday dinner, and have taken our D&D game online. Xiaolin’s painting class and the gym are closed, for the moment.
Meanwhile, in Canada, Ontario will join many other provinces in lifting its mask mandates in public settings and do away with other COVID protocols. Ontario Premier Doug Ford says plans are ‘in the works’ ahead of his upcoming election to remove the vaccine passport system ‘Vaxxpass’ that requires people to show proof of vaccination when they enter gyms, shopping malls, or restaurants. Some health authorities are arguing it too soon and could lead to spikes in long covid or serious cases, but at this point, we’re hoping that Omicron is mild enough for vaccinated people that it won’t be the disaster it sounds like on the face of it.
Xiaolin is painting and loving her new hobby, and I’m working on finishing my Amos book. It feels good to be creative at home, and both have something to fall into, to muse over, to get excited about, and to use our energy to create something that we can leave behind. She’s just started but seems like a natural, and I wonder what she’ll be able to do in a decade or two if she keeps it up. It’s never too late to start a new hobby or career.
In exciting news, I’ve taken a pound of fresh basil and made buckets of pesto. As an expensive imported product, it’s pretty exciting to be able to make it myself, just one more thing I can be proud of figuring out in life before my next birthday. The next step is to grow my own basil, nuts and make my own cheese. One step at a time.
I’ve submitted a package to a local publisher in English and Chinese. I hope to hand the whole book to my literary translator by summer, work on a screenplay and novel and then return for Amos book two of eight by Spring Festival, where, if the pandemic has improved, I’ll be writing in our new beach house by the sea.
I listen to news clips about the Ukraine invasion with the same fever I once listened to COVID news, but I am trying to dial back. Armchair experts discuss the steady stream of thuds as cities are reduced to rubble and they pontificate on the mental state and strategy of leaders and armies, and daily by the hour, reports update troops movements and the latest infrastructure, airports, hospitals, or bomb shelters to be reduced to rubble. The suffering of citizens and residents bombed by artillery shells deserves to be observed, agonized over, and felt, but I’m trying not to let it affect my health too much. I am grateful for my family, safety, health, career, and lucky situation here in Chongqing. The geopolitics concerns me – what part China will play, as reports emerge from the West that Russia has asked China for assistance in winning its war. I understand the two share some ideologies and are both concerned with America/NATO on their doorstep, but I believe in my heart China can not be happy about what Russia is doing right now to the citizens of Ukraine. China has expressed the desire for peace and respect for the sovereignty of nations, so it can’t be comfortable with Russia bombing advanced and historic cities full of civilians into rubble. I just cross my fingers and hope peace will prevail, and soon. If it escalates, and China and Canada get drawn into the conflict, I wonder how it will affect the ex-pats who live here, who all just want peace and happy lives. But I cannot ignore the current official death count of Ukrainian children, at the time of writing, it is 108, but the actual figure may be higher. My heart hurts for them, and I hope that soon, we might get the good news that peace has prevailed and the ill-considered invasion has stopped.
“My grandmother once gave me a tip:
In difficult times, you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Remove the dust.
Write a letter.
Make a soup.
You are advancing step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Rest a little.
Take another step.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more.
And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.”
~ Elena Mikhalkova
Art by Andrea Kowch