T+L India reader Abhimanyu Ghosh is a corporate professional who resides in Shanghai, China. In an exclusive interview, he tells us how after COVID-19 life is gradually coming back to normalcy in China’s biggest business hub. He also throws light on what intensive scrutiny and measures are being implemented by the Chinese authorities to stop a second surge. By Pallavi Phukan
When did you move to Shanghai?
I moved to Shanghai in November 2018.
What was life like when the pandemic was at the peak and everything was under lockdown?
I was fortunate enough to have left Shanghai early January to attend my sister’s wedding in India and was supposed to be back in Shanghai after the Chinese New Year holidays at the end of January. However, it was then that COVID-19 was peaking in China, and we were given the option of staying back and working from India. Interestingly, even during the peak periods, Shanghai was not under lockdown, the likes that we are seeing in other parts of the world now. During that period, everyone was told to work from home, public transport was severely restricted, restaurants and etc. were shut down, but if one wanted, he/she could get out of the house. China thrives on home deliveries (of practically everything under the sun), and that wasn’t restricted during this period.
Tell us about the ground reality that you are witnessing there now.
Things have been coming back to normalcy in Shanghai now. I got back to Shanghai mid-March and had to undergo compulsory quarantine at home for 14 days before I could step out. This was also based on the countries one was coming into Shanghai from (each city in China has different restrictions). India at that time was in the ‘green’ list, so I had it relatively easy. For those who were coming from high-risk/’red’ list countries, they had to undergo a compulsory nucleic test for COVID-19 and were made to stay at centralised quarantine centres (typically hotels, and paid for by the travellers).
As of now, all offices, public transport, restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, etc. are open whereas movie theatres, tourist spots and schools continue to be shut. Shanghai seems to be getting back to its manic pace – traffic jams are back during peak hours, subways are running again, restaurants and bars are generally full especially over the weekends. However, things are not quite like usual and that’s evident from the malls and shops, which seem to be far less busy than normal. During this time, Shanghai gets some of its best weather so there are a lot of people outside walking and cycling (albeit with masks on).
There are a number of restrictions and measures that continue to be imposed; for example, most buildings/restaurants have a temperature check before allowing people in. There’s also an app (suishenban) which all of us have to download that runs a dynamic contagion assessment on each person and then throws up green, amber or red QR code continuously on the basis of countries where we are from, whether we have been in the vicinity of anyone tested/suspected to be COVID-19 positive and other criteria. Only if our code is green can we enter/access most public places. In many places, we need to scan a QR code, which keeps a log of our identity and our visit so that contact tracing can be done easily if required. Additionally, masks are compulsory to be worn in all public transport, public areas of offices, etc. At my workplace, we are encouraged not to have any physical meetings and are not allowed to eat in our open cafeteria. Buildings are also required to switch off centralised cooling/heating. All deliveries are also usually made outside building premises to ensure minimum contact.
What measures is the government taking to stop a second surge?
Until there is a vaccine that is developed for COVID-19, there is always a chance of a surge and I think the Chinese government recognises this. Like I mentioned previously, there are a lot of stringent checks which are being done continuously. Tourist places had been opened for a short while, but those have been shut down again. A surge in cases was coming as a result of people coming into China from other countries, and China has been very aggressive with this in recent times – all foreigners (even those with valid visas) have been disallowed from coming into China until May 15. Thus, only Chinese citizens and diplomats (to some extent) are being allowed to come back. All those who return are being made to take a COVID-19 test and then made to undergo centralised quarantine for 14 days.
Any advice to people under lockdown at the moment?
I believe it is important to stay mentally positive and while setting some goals is important, it is critical to do things that make one happy during this time. All of us are in this together to some degree. I for one enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of working from home and now at times, miss it after getting back to work physically. The other thing is not to let our guard down, even when things get somewhat better until this truly blows over.
Where would you like to travel to once this situation settles down?
Without a doubt, back to India! My wife and family are in India and I can’t wait to be reunited post this.