• Gav Munro

Locked Down in China- What I've learned

It all began for me on the evening of January 25th, where I sat with my wife and in-laws celebrating Chinese New Year in Hangzhou, a city 460 miles away from Wuhan...things would get a lot worse.

We were all celebrating the new lunar year by watching the New Year's Gala on TV, the biggest show in the world. With over 1 billion viewers the show has most of China's eyes watching it.

We'd heard about a viral outbreak in Wuhan through a few news sources for a few weeks but when I saw the TV Gala start with a 'tribute to the brave men and women helping to fight the virus' I had a bit of a sinking feeling in my stomach.

The day after the show I emailed the British consulate in Beijing and told them of my concerns and asked would they notify me if the situation grew worse, they replied with a simple:

'The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Hubei Province. If you are in this area and able to leave, you should do so.'

It seemed like a generic response and I wasn't totally satisfied with their answer, but I carried on trying to enjoy what was left of the Chinese New Year week long holiday.

I am a portrait painter, originally from Manchester and I also help mentor and teach some of the students of the nearby International School and Children's Hospital. I love to paint and I love to teach, I live a very lucky life here in China.

At the end of the first week in February I started to receive messages from many of my friends who were concerned for my safety. I was sent a huge amount of data and articles saying that this virus could become epidemic or even pandemic.

This virus was a secret plan by the Chinese government/ the US government/ the illuminati to wage a global war/bring down China/ cause a global recession. I literally spent days fact-checking a lot of conspiracy theories and balancing up a lot of conjecture. I was told the death rate could run into millions and I should leave China immediately.

As the situation became graver I thought about what information I should believe, and in an escalating crisis who and what sources I should trust. I found my sources, for data the WHO and Johns Hopkins seemed to be tracking the identified case numbers and deaths pretty regularly.

The WHO also published daily Situation Reports which were illuminating and showed the rapid rise of the detected cases. For news and opinion I trusted unbiased coverage that didn't seem to be posting alarmist and worst case scenario headlines that a lot of the other British tabloids were.

On 1st Feb we were asked to stay inside and only venture out for essentials.

On the 3rd February China ordered the largest viral lockdown in human history confining 45m people to their homes in an attempt to slow down the contagion rate of the unnamed virus. Our household was no exception and me, my wife and our two cats Bo and Molly were told to stay indoors.

Around the 6th Feb we were put on a stricter lockdown...

We were all given temperature checks and marked all clear, our complexes many entrances were closed in order to funnel residents and guests to the main entrance where a special tent was erected to check temperature and register anyone entering.

Over the next 2 weeks only one person per household was allowed out every 2 days for essentials and groceries, with my household having two people in it that meant I would be allowed to get my daily 2 hour walk only every 4 days. Luckily our apartment complex boast a beautiful forecourt garden so I managed to get out and do my exercise.

Above: Vlog update from 5th Feb 2020

All local businesses were closed, the exceptions only being the ones that sold essentials.

On the first night of the quarantine I decided to wear my mask and surgical gloves and take my electric bike out of the complex and ride around the streets. It was eerie. A city of six million people was like a ghost-town. I could hear the silence. The serenity of the moment was broken as I rode passed the entrance to another housing complex where security guards and police were screaming at someone who was trying to get into the complex to see his friends 'But you're not allowed in here!' they shouted at him. I decided not to rubber-neck and instead ride around the usually packed streets.

As the silence returned I was almost hypnotised by the moment and started to think deeply as to whether I had misjudged the situation and this was actually a lot more serious than I'd given it credit for. Suddenly I was passed by a golf cart with a police logo emblazoned on the side and two police officers should through a loudspeaker 'Why are you here? Get back to home and quarantine yourself!'.

My trips outside the compound after that were limited to grocery shopping and recording vlogs with updates, mainly for the benefit of my friends and family that were in the UK who were worrying about me. On the 3rd February came news of the first death outside China and coincided with a speech that leaders made where they admitted the government knew of the threat a while before the outbreak and also that officials in the epicenter of Wuhan were facing punishment for their inaction.

On the 7th Feb the city where I live reported 151 cases that had been identified. A new app came with my daily media updates in China that allowed me to track the location of the homes of people who had tested positive, 2 cases were within 2 blocks of my apartment. The numbers rose to 168 by the 16th Feb.

The following week the virus had a new name COVID19 (Coronavirus Disease from 2019). Stories were out of the death of the whistleblowing doctor Li Wenling and huge anger poured out over Chinese social media with netizens out for justice.

Also that week the cases discovered rose sharply overnight from 45,000 to 60,000.

Above: Vlog update from 12th Feb 2020

Above: Vlog update from 17th Feb 2020

This sparked the panic I had seen weeks earlier and my inbox was full of friends sending me the news. Upon researching this I found that the detection criteria had been widened and that sharp spike settled down over the next few days.

And the following weeks harvested many other stories of heroism, cowardice, altruism, selfishness, determination and tragedy. I witnessed a lot of smiles from the locals, a lot of people helping each other out. When I spoke to friends and family they described similar experience through the blitz in the second world war and the spirit of the New Yorkers after 9/11.

I learned very quickly that things were 'going to get a lot worse before they got better', and the daily detection figures would increase every day during the outbreak period. With the mortality rate at 2% (at the time) I remember thinking at the end of February, when the identified cases were around 80k people that we should expect 1,600 deaths and not to be led to despair when those reports came through daily.

I had faith in the quarantine measures, I felt sure that the viral spread would be slowed down and people who had the virus would 2 weeks to rest and recover.

I resigned myself to the possibility of contracting the virus, how unlikely under the restrictions. I read the guidelines and I knew that if, when entering my apartment complex or a public place, my temperature was checked and I was over the 37.3 degree threshold I would be assessed and either quarantined at home for 2 weeks to rest it offer or be sent to hospital for treatment. I knew that my demographic was at low risk from dying or suffering the harsher symptoms of the infection. I was prepared and knew what to do.

I've learned that sometimes in life there's a crisis that nobody quite understands. By their very nature new super-viruses are unknown and information changes daily until, over time it's whittled down to facts. You have to have faith in the people around you, your community, the health experts and the authorities.

I'm here today, at the beginning of March as the virus spreads around the world infecting over 100k people and how it is bordering on a pandemic with things in my adopted city starting to slowly return to normal. In Hangzhou the number of people detected with he virus has shrank to a handful with mostly everyone making a full recovery.

Above: Vlog update from 11th March 2020

Nobody is under any illusions here, we all know the virus is still out there. Even as the quarantine laws are relaxed and we can come and go as we please we are all taking things with a degree of caution. The risks are still very real. I've noticed people in this city being incredibly quick to adapt to change.

People have been asking me recently if I've been afraid at all through this whole episode and I can honestly say I haven't. We've been keeping ourselves informed with global news networks and the local media and government have been providing us with daily updates. I think I would've been scared had I not armed myself with the facts and the latest information about the epidemic.

Above: Vlog update from 13th March 2020

I've learned a lot in the last 9 weeks, I just hope that as we fight this virus we decide to engage with it globally, together with facts and not let ignorance turn into fear, as fear inevitably turns to panic.

Gav Munro is an artist from Manchester, UK who has lived in China 13 years. He is married to Juliet and lives in the city of Hangzhou.


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