My Moments of Embarrassment!
23 January 2020, China: It was a crisp cold afternoon in Beijing when the news of COVID19 lockdown in Hubei rippled through the country. This was a time families were preparing to leave for a year-awaited week with their loved ones.
Chinese New Year boasts the world’s largest human migration and this unfortunate news meant things would go differently. I was stepping out of my recording from China Global Television Network’s (CGTN) studio when the gravity hit me.
Being the only person in the subway not wearing a mask earned me a few confused glances, and a nod from a police officer keen to help if I needed. I found it most fitting to step out at the next station and cab it home. This was serious and grounding.
Home: from Lahore to Beijing
As a Pakistani living in Beijing for almost five years, a city that has grown to be my second home, I haven’t for a minute felt like an outsider- in the good times, and the bad.
Read more: Second wave of coronavirus cases hits China
Most of us, including myself had planned to visit home, which for me is Lahore. But as time would tell, every person would have to play their role to fight this threat- a threat that knew no race, religion, creed, or belief system. We had to fight together.
In the coming days we began staying at home, some areas in complete lockdown, in the hope that we don’t spread the virus to others, and the health-workers and doctors in the frontline know we are doing everything in our capacity to support them.
Wearing a mask at all times, reaching out to friends and colleagues, cheering each other up and finding new ways to spend time in the great indoors became our new way to spend time. We comforted each other through it all.
It was weeks into the mounting death toll that the real struggle began. The struggle to keep people informed, to address misinformation- because there was every reason to believe this virus is going to spread globally, and it was for the benefit of countries with compromised health systems that China was doing its best to limit its spread.
The misinformation being spread, about people being locked up, and even gunned down, and panic on the streets couldn’t be further from reality.
Real Struggle; Real Heroes!
Not once in my time there was their panic, but people across the board were supportive. And I felt no different. It was embarrassing when people asked me about the difficulties of being in self-quarantine: this is the least I could do.
The real struggle was of the health workers and doctors risking their lives, working multiple shifts, exhausted and exposed, knowing they may never come back.
The real struggle was of those who were cleaning the streets, patrolling our neighborhoods, standing at every shop counter, and entrance checking our temperatures to identify possible cases. And of those who volunteered to work at the fever clinics where suspected cases were sent.
I was simply staying safe. Wasn’t this the least anyone could do?
But apart from staying safe, I also tried to get the reality across. The ground situation, pulse of the people, and effectiveness of the government’s policies.
It was also comforting to see Pakistan, as well as Pakistanis, stood tall by China in this difficult period, which was received with immense warmth and gratitude by the Chinese.
China has won; but no celebrations!
A few days ago, after witnessing perhaps one of the hardest times, China has reported zero home-grown cases.
Only weeks ago China was the epicenter with hundreds and even thousands of cases being reported on a daily basis- so this was clearly a huge achievement. But there was no sigh of relief, no celebration, and no fireworks.
How can there be, when most countries in the world are struggling? We see the cases of Italy and Iran where death tolls continue to mount, and then there are countries like Pakistan, where time is still on our side.
China is not celebrating today, because there is no reason to stop fighting till every country in the world is safe.
Instead everything is being done to share this experience, to provide people and governments with a roadmap of what can work. China is sending teams of doctors, health-workers, medical supplies, and also a strong message of resilience.
Because “We are all tides of the same Sea”.
In Pakistan we were initially lucky that not a single case came from China, despite the fact that tens of thousands of people from both countries are permanent residents in the other.
But as the virus hit other parts of the world it also made its way into Pakistan, and even though we believed miracles can happen, the number of cases has multiplied in days. So the real question is, what next?
A lot of people assume that China’s success story is in part because of the government’s effective policy, and also because they already had a system in place after their experience with SARS in 2003.
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While both of these are true, China did take a bold step by completely locking down 60 million people of Hubei on an 8-hour notice, people were asked to stay indoors, and avoid travel, and clinics and hospitals followed an advanced protocol developed 17 years ago- the key to make these policies successful was the people.
At no point was anyone stopped from leaving their houses, but people stayed home, because they knew, as I knew, we have to support each other. And in Pakistan we have to do the same.
So what can you do? Or, what is the least you can do? Think about the people who are going to be spending days and nights dealing with patients in the coming days. If it is possible for you to go in self-quarantine, do it.
Stay at home and work from home if you have the luxury to. For those who have to go to the office limit your exposure to your home and to your workplace. And for those who can, help families who may be affected by this situation.
We have seen both cases, of China and South Korea where extreme discipline and concerted efforts of the government, and people, relative success has been achieved. And on the contrary we have countries struggling, choosing who will live, and who will die- because no health system in the world is prepared for a full-blown impact of COVID-19.
So please, make the right choice. Don’t panic, but react and play your part, because no policy in the world can be effective unless people unite. China, and the rest of the world is behind you.
Zoon Ahmed Khan is Research Fellow, Belt and Road Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University. She covers International Relations and specialises in Chinese Foreign Policy, Belt and Road Initiative, CPEC and Eurasian Connectivity. She Tweets at Zoon_AhmedKhan. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.