The Corona Diaries - February 16th

The Neighborhood

I wrote a bit yesterday about the propaganda we’re seeing in our neighborhood. I’m talking mostly about those ubiquitous yellow on red banners, typically strewn with party slogans or an array of encouraging, uplifting messages. I have to admit I find them very effective in our current situation. They are also designed to calm nerves and promote unity with the added bonus of perhaps nipping any dissent in the bud. I also mentioned yesterday that I’m glad, for once, to see these banners. I’m all for anything that might reduce the chances of contracting or spreading this virus. Well, except that whole, “You can’t walk your dog” thing. Here’s what it looks like outside in the garden today… 

And more notices posted inside the foyer and on the elevators… you’ll notice a couple of warnings about carbon monoxide poisoning. Most homes have gas water heaters and many are not properly ventilated. In addition, a lot of people are not educated about using the proper operation of the heaters. Every year, a number of people die in Liuzhou die as a result, most often while in the shower. The fear is that with the Covid-19 scare, even more people won’t think to ventilate their homes, or simply be to afraid to open their windows.

We still have no VPN (see addendum) and I think I now know why suddenly, after so many weeks, the VPN’s have been blocked again. On Saturday evening an earlier speech from President Xi was widely shared on the internet. In it, he called for tightened control over online discussion and increased policing to ensure “positive energy” and social stability.  As the country struggles to contain Covid-19, there have been rarely seen public displays of anger over the handling of the epidemic. Initially, I felt censors had shown great patience, perhaps even a little empathy, in how they reacted. They had been especially liberal in allowing online criticism of local officials in central Hubei, the epicenter and origin of the crisis. Calls for freedom of speech and political reform were later scrubbed after the death of a whistleblowing doctor was badly mishandled and it appeared dissent was growing. The President went on to say, the government must “strengthen the management and control of online media” and “crack down on those who seize the opportunity to create rumors” on the internet. Perhaps I should emphasize at this point, it’s not my intent to be spearing rumors. in fact I’m not spreading rumors. These are all facts being reported both domestically and internationally, inside and outside of China. 

President Xi added, “It is necessary to increase use of police force and strengthen the visible use of police” calling for a crackdown on any behavior that “disrupts social order” including hoarding medical supplies. Xi further urged party members to “dare to criticize” those who had failed to carry out the Communist Party central committee’s instructions, and warned “those who fail to perform their duties shall be punished according to discipline and law.” I haven’t noticed any increase in police presence here in Liuzhou, but remember, we’re not really going out. I haven’t noticed any chatter about it online either. I did mention yesterday that local officials in Hubei have already begun to feel the full force of Xi’s orders. On Thursday, the political chiefs of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, were sacked and replaced by handpicked Xi loyalists with security backgrounds. The province’s top two health officials were also been fired earlier in the week.

Today’s numbers… no new cases have been reported here in Liuzhou, so we’re holding steady at 24 and thankful there have still been no fatalities. To put that number in perspective, there are somewhere around 4 million people in the greater Liuzhou area, so that comes out to about 0.000006% of the population here having been confirmed as being infected. Despite the relatively low number, I’m glad to say the overwhelming majority of peoplein Liuzhou still appear to be taking the threat very seriously.  I believe that vigilance has played no small part as to why the numbers here have remained so low. The virus has killed more than 1,660 people as of this morning and infected 68,589 across the country.

I’ve begun cleaning my office. It really doesn’t need it very badly, but you know… bored. I’ll eventually take everything off the desks, clear out all the shelves and drawers, vacuum thoroughly and then wipe it all down with disinfectant. I’ll give the computers a thorough disinfectant bath as well, clean all my camera gear and then finally put everything back. I figure this is a good way to kill the better part of two days if I milk it. We are getting some exercise. I’m riding my stationary bike and the girls continue their daily yoga sessions. One benefit of the reduced traffic and closed factories is that the air quality here has greatly improved (currently 37AQI). Of course, no one can get out to enjoy it, still I’ll take it. 

Oh, I forgot to mention our fairly uneventful Valentines Day. We ate a light meal in front of the TV, watched the movie “1917”, and went to bed early. Jia and Elvis joined us on the sofa, so it wasn’t exactly romantic. Even so, it was perhaps our best Valentines celebration ever. Remember, it was just a few short days ago that we didn’t know when we’d see each other again. I hope the next installment will include that collection of rumors I’ve been seeing or hearing about and perhaps some other silliness, as I try too lighten it up some. Humor can be a great coping device, providing some level of comfort in situations like this. You just can’t be flippant about it.

Next - The Rumors

Liuzhou - February 16th - 2020

Addendum: After six days, one of my VPN’s began working again and I’ve been able to share this post and others to Facebook.

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