Lockdowns and self-isolation are old news in China. According to official figures, new cases of the novel coronavirus have fallen drastically in the country where the outbreak first made itself known. In Beijing, residents are reclaiming their former pre-virus lives, albeit with a range of modifications that have become part of the fabric of everyday life in the Chinese capital.
Mask wearing has at the very least served as a comfort in China during the virus outbreak, regardless of scientific opinion as to its efficacy. It's impossible to do anything or go anywhere in Beijing without wearing one. But, as the weather warms up and they become more uncomfortable, I've noticed more people going about their business with their masks pulled down below their chins or not wearing them at all in smaller, residential streets.
Communal enforcement of this particular safety precaution certainly exists. "Wear your mask!" a man nearby called out to me as I walked down a street with mine not properly covering my face. A friend recently hesitated to post a picture of herself cycling on her WeChat personal page as she wasn't wearing a mask; one of the first comments she received asked why she was mask-free.
Hand-drawn signs on a shop request that customers wear masks if they enter and tell them that the premises have been disinfected that day, April 11, 2020. (photo source: CGTN/Justina Crabtree)
The rapid pace of life in Beijing has helped some people cope with self-isolation and quarantine. Near immediate responses to messages sent via WeChat or other social media platforms are typical; smartphones are never far out of reach. This fast-flowing communication style, in which casual questions can be answered with the same immediacy as having family and friends in the same room, has been key in preventing loneliness.
At the same time, the virus has forced me to become more patient, an unexpected shift in this crowded city full of life and movement. Precautionary measures aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus take time. Needing to find a mask to wear when rushing out of the house and to disinfect it daily; to have my temperature checked and show my residents' entry card when entering my street to head home, and to wash my hands upon stepping in my front door.
Parcels are held outside this apartment compound to allow for no-contact delivery in Beijing, China, April 11, 2020.(photo source: CGTN/Justina Crabtree)
I disinfect my desk before I start work. It's typical to call around several establishments to check if they are open before going out to eat or drink. When entering a cafe, restaurant or even certain streets, I must have my temperature taken and fill out a form with this reading, as well as my contact details. We have all had to make time for these extra steps.
A seven or eight hour time difference between China and my native U.K. means that I literally live in the future, ahead of my family and friends back home. But, since the coronavirus outbreak went global this gulf has widened; it now feels as though life in China is, in fact, at least two months ahead in time in comparison to other countries.
Left: Hand sanitizer by an ATM. Right: Signs in a restaurant in this photo taken on March 31, 2020, ask customers to have their temperatures checked and inform them that the establishment is disinfected every day. (photo source: CGTN/Justina Crabtree)
A worrying Groundhog Day scenario has played out in recent weeks as my friends and colleagues here in Beijing have watched distant places undergo the same process of shutting down communities as the spread of the virus became more severe. I have had many similar conversations with family and friends at home about what life is like now in Beijing, as they nervously try to imagine a livable future once the virus is quashed. It seems as though everyone across the world is – or was, or will – undergoing a similar experience and here in China, our turn was first.
Beijing is still on the road to recovering its previous normality. Many restaurants, galleries, gyms and other establishments remain closed. Some people continue to work from home and schools are yet to open.
When the coronavirus outbreak was at its peak here I rarely saw children. But now they're playing outside, wearing masks often decorated with colorful cartoons, waiting for school to start up again.