On January 20, while speaking to China Central Television, 83-year-old Dr. Zhong Nanshan —who became a national hero for his courage to speak the truth during the SARS epidemic in 2003—announced on behalf of a high-level medical expert group, the National Commission on Health, that the new coronavirus pneumonia discovered in Wuhan could be spreading among people. It had been more than a month since the official announcement of the first confirmed case in the Wuhan, Hubei province in central China. The next morning, I took a train from Beijing to Tianjin, my hometown to visit my parents for Chinese New Year, the Spring Festival.
There were only a few passengers on the public transportation. Almost everyone wore a mask on trains and buses. In Beijing and Tianjin, the two major vibrant metropolitan cities in China, I hardly saw any vehicles or pedestrians except in the popular bakery shops where patrons queued up to buy food for Spring Festival — an unusual one in our lifetime. Two days later, just before the Chinese New Year, Wuhan was put under a lockdown. Soon, the lockdown was extended to the entire country to slow down the spread of the virus. It was as if the virus had pressed a magic pause button and forced a country with a population of 1.4 billion to hibernate.
However, some people were called upon to ‘wage a war’ on the virus, the vicious and cunning enemy which people still knew little about. Doctors and nurses from across the country were deployed in Wuhan and the Hubei province to support a health system on the verge of collapse as patients flooded the corridors desperately seeking diagnoses and treatment. By mid-April, it was reported that a total of 42,600 medical personnel supported Hubei, and women accounted for two-thirds of them.
By mid-April, it was reported that a total of 42,600 medical personnel supported Hubei, and women accounted for two-thirds of them.
One hundred days have passed since the Wuhan lockdown. Spring has arrived. Children play in the parks as schools remain closed. Major cities are witnessing traffic jams again. People tired of eating home cooked food can finally dine out in their favorite restaurants. It seems as though life has returned to normal, except that everyone has to wear a mask whenever they go out of their homes and are required to present the code generated in their cellphone apps indicating that they are not from a high-risk area, or have met the quarantine requirements. In China, new confirmed Covid-19 cases are mostly among Chinese who have returned from overseas.
April 4th is China’s national day of mourning dedicated to over 4,000 lives taken by Covid-19. Many of these deaths could have been avoided, if appropriate responses —some as simple as openness and transparency about the epidemic or allowing doctors and media to tell the truth —were taken by the authorities in the early stages of the outbreak.
The Covid-19 crisis is not a great equalizer, it is a great amplifier, which reveals and intensifies many crises we have long undergone.
The Covid-19 crisis is not a great equalizer, it is a great amplifier, which reveals and intensifies many crises we have long undergone — inequality, patriarchy, violence and discrimination, the crisis of care, the deficit in democracy and governance, ecological unsustainability and more. In addition to the rising curve of Covid-19 cases, what disheartens me is the gender stereotyping of women in media – “nine-months pregnant nurse keeps working on her post”, “a nurse returns to work in the hospital ten days after her miscarriage”, “women doctors and nurses shaved their heads before going to support Wuhan”, “the local government says, in order for men to return to work with peace of mind, women should stay at home to take care of their children”, etc. While the contribution of women health workers at the center of the battle against the epidemic is complimented in the public domain, their needs are far from recognized. In the private sphere, the gender division of labor and the status of women as the principal caregivers are left intact, ideologically and practically.
China aims to eliminate extreme poverty by 2020. It is not yet possible to assess how the epidemic will affect the achievement of this goal. Undoubtedly, the epidemic exacerbates the struggles faced by the poor and the vulnerable – people living in remote rural areas, migrant workers, gig workers, people with disabilities, and people affected by HIV, among others.
Undoubtedly, the epidemic exacerbates the struggles faced by the poor and the vulnerable.