[Content warning: suicide attempt]
The frustrations many of my compatriots in Guangdong, China experienced in the last two months, you, in the UK, are likely going through now. Half of my pain comes from seeing so many lives lost and so many hearts broken, but most of the helplessness comes from witnessing government incompetence and corruption.
Take masks for an example. Unlike here in the UK, where even now there are people who insist masks do not work, in China, it is simply custom that masks should be worn whenever you go out. Companies issue masks to employees. They were essential supplies at the peak of the outbreak, only there weren’t nearly enough for everyone as a new one is needed each day. Millions were donated to Wuhan, but few ended up in the hospitals they were meant for. Donated masks were either resold online, sent to private hospitals, or sat rotting in warehouses.
Because mask-wearing was state mandated at this point, you wouldn’t even be able to
board a bus without a mask on. It created many problems for people who couldn’t afford
more than one mask a day. Technically you’re supposed to discard your mask after 4 hours of use, but janitors, and other low-income workers have had to go to work wearing masks darkened by germs and dirt. A close friend of mine developed oral infection from having to wear masks for an extended period of time.
Major class inequality was highlighted by the outbreak. A middle school pupil in Henan sadly attempted suicide because she did not have a phone to attend online classes with. On the day of the incident, there was a quiz scheduled for her class. Online classes are highly exclusive and raise the threshold for receiving education in China, but policy-makers decided to turn a blind eye.
For the politicians, even when the outbreak was impossible to ignore, covering up their
misdeeds was still no. 1 priority. An acquaintance of mine was questioned by the police
twice for trying to hold an online memorial service for the whistle-blower Dr Li. Her friend stayed up the whole night waiting for updates from her, not knowing if she would ever return.
The lockdown, when it hastily happened, was draconian not just on the national level. It was brutally enforced right down to your gated community. Roads were closed off. Blocks of flats were closed off. For a while, residents of certain cities were not allowed out of their gated community, leaving a few of my friends wondering how to get food.
Ordinary people can be disappointing, too, not just the government. There was widespread xenophobia towards people from the Hubei province. So much so that people have had to stick disclaimers on their cars showing they haven’t been back to Hubei in years. Tenants have been refused entry to the flats they had been renting from before the outbreak. There were people returning from Hubei who were locked inside their flats by their neighbours.
Having been in quarantine for under a week now, some of you might have realise an
extended lock-in takes a mental toll. It’s harder and harder to regulate your screen time.
You start to develop mood swings. For people with existing mental health conditions, it
becomes even harder than usual to keep up a routine and stay active. This is what is
happening to my sister. After multiple attempts to regulate her screen time ended with her self-harming, making sure she goes to bed at a regular hour is now mission impossible. A few weeks ago, her depression took a sharp dive. There were a few days where she would express suicidal thoughts nearly daily. Being thousands of miles away, I didn’t know what I could have said or done that would not have fallen flat. Thankfully, her condition now seems to be stabilising again.
My mother’s work is closely related to medical supplies so she hasn't taken a break since the start of the outbreak. Despite her underlying health conditions, she has been going to work every day, with only her masks for protection. She was overworked well before the pandemic, and now it has escalated even more. I worry that she could collapse from exhaustion even if she manages to stay clear of the virus.
All these stressors are important to discuss and share, but I would like to end with a
positive. Things have now massively improved since the peak of the lockdown. Containment seems to have worked so far. Even the usual troubles in my family are not at the front of our minds 24/7. Most of the time my sister shares funny TikToks with me, and mom spams the family group chat with whacky fake news. Because my family does not live in the epicentre, our share of the pandemic is nothing compared to what the people in Wuhan, Iran, and Italy go through. I do not pretend to know what it will be like for Iran and Italy, but there is no doubt that things will get better.
[Zhou Jie – she/her]