Living in China During the Outbreak of COVID-19

By an anonymous mother, Xiamen, China

Spring Festival is the most important holiday for many Chinese people. The number of people travelling during this period during 2019 reached as many as 2.98 billion. The 2020 Spring Festival travel rush began on 10 January as people gathered with families. Who could have imagined what we were about to face?

On 20 January, the news about a new pneumonia spread among the public. Zhong Nanshan, a medical expert in China, warned the media and government that a virus caused pneumonia, it could spread from person to person, and some medical professionals had been infected in Wuhan City. My partner brought home some masks after work and told me that his company had shared them with employees. More and more people were wearing masks in the city and we did too.

On 23 January, two days before Chinese New Year, the Wuhan government locked the city down at 10am. The numbers of infected people and the death toll were increasing. It was confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) situation report – 24 that by 13 February, 46,997 people in the world were confirmed infected with the coronavirus, SARS-COV-2 (which causes the disease currently known as COVID-19). 46,550 of those people were infected in China, with 1,368 deaths.

For a few weeks, millions of Chinese citizens tried to limit human-to-human transmission by staying at home. The Spring Festival travel rush suddenly disappeared. We were strongly encouraged to isolate ourselves in our local communities to prevent transmission. The streets became quiet and I could hear birds singing when I opened the window. That was quite rare, since there are about 9,000 families and 30,000 people in the community where I live; my city always has hustle and bustle outside. Public places such as museums, libraries and cinemas were closed temporarily to avoid crowds, and schools were closed.

Measures to prevent coronavirus infection brought lots of changes. The majority of us stayed at home all day long, only going out to buy food. More than 25,000 doctors and nurses came from all over the country to support hospitals in Hubei province and helped to relieve local medical professionals. After about two weeks, my son’s primary school began to provide lessons online.

I sometimes provide in-person breastfeeding support on a volunteer basis, but it was no longer safe to do so at that time. Thankfully, technology provided opportunities: I was able to provide online breastfeeding support via WeChat, an instant messenger program based in China. I with a little surprised to find that one of the participants was brushing her teeth and another washing her face, which never happens when meeting people in person!

After talking about general breastfeeding topics, towards the end of our discussion I asked people to share how they were coping with the coronavirus and how it affected their daily life. One mother had a neighbour who had just confirmed positive for the virus, and she has written her story elsewhere in this magazine. I remember another mother, with a two-month-old baby, saying that the unexpected time staying at home felt just like an extension to the “confinement period” she had already experienced for the first month after her baby was born.

Volunteer work has helped me maintain normalcy and lessen pressure in the middle of this unexpected chaos. Besides providing breastfeeding support, I looked for information for breastfeeding families during the breakout of coronavirus. A huge amount of useful information was available, in particular the WHO interim guide. Collecting and sharing information with those who need it makes me feel a bond between us and gives me a sense of belonging.

Chinese people are now trying to resume their normal lives at their own pace. I believe that in the near future, breastfeeding families will be able to exchange hugs and their stories without wearing masks.

Update on 19 March 2020 

In the two months since most Chinese people learned about this coronavirus, we have made great efforts and passed the darkest times. On 17 March, some provinces used charter flights or vehicles to bring back medical workers dispatched to Hubei Province. The first group consisted of 41 teams comprising 3,675 medical workers. To combat COVID-19, 346 medical teams totalling 42,600 healthcare professionals came to help from all over China. On 18 March, no new infections of the novel coronavirus were reported in Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic. Confirmed cases on the same day were 34, all of them imported from overseas.

As for daily life, the focus is on economics. The government is encouraging companies to work normally and is providing necessary temporary measures such as reducing tax for some small companies. In Xiamen, my hometown, outdoor public places were reopened on 22 February so that people could relax and exercise, but indoor places such as libraries and museums remain closed. My son is still learning online at home and he is longing to return to his primary school, hopefully at the beginning of April.

This article originally appeared in Close to the Heart, a publication of La Leche League Asia & Middle East, in their Early- & Mid-Year 2020, Volume 21, Number 1 issue. Reprinted with permission.