My Hanh could not get her prenatal check at the hospital after Shenzhen placed millions of people under a strict lockdown as part of China’s zero-Covid strategy.
The Vietnamese woman, who lives in the southern Chinese city’s Yantian District, was to have had her regular check on March 15.
After speaking to the local police, she got permission to go to the hospital and was escorted by them out of her apartment complex. But when they reached the main street, medical authorities at a checkpoint did not allow them to pass.
“They said I can call an ambulance if it is an emergency but I should go home since it was not urgent,” she says.
“Now only ambulances and [essential personnel] are allowed on the streets”.
As the world enters the third year with the pandemic, many countries have decided to live with it. But China is an outlier that is sticking to a zero-Covid strategy, maintaining strict lockdowns, mass testing and movement restrictions.
Vietnamese living in China are rattled by the spike, and some have also seen their lives upended and incomes reduced due to the stringent measures.
A worker in a protective suit collects a swab from a resident at a residential compound under lockdown, following the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China March 14, 2022. Photo by Reuters
Doan Ngoc Ha of Futian District says there are many inconveniences since Shenzhen officials ordered the city’s 17.5 million people to stay at home starting last week after 60 new cases were found the previous Sunday.
“We must furnish a negative Covid result with the test done within 24 – 48 hours if we want to go to the supermarket”.
Everyone has to get tested every one or two days. If a Covid patient is found in an apartment complex, authorities isolate the whole building, she says.
Hanh says local authorities visit every home to collect samples for testing. “They notify us two hours before arrival. Each person has a QR code with their personal information so that they can detect a Covid case easily”.
Many Vietnamese have faced ordeals as finance and technology hub Shenzhen suspended production and transportation.
Nguyen Son Tung, who runs a goods transport business, still has to pay overheads though he cannot earn an income.
“I must pay for the warehouse, drivers’ salaries, Covid test fees, and many others,” he laments.
Chinese customs authorities now take stringent safety measures and take hours to screen a truck now instead of the normal 10-15 minutes, which is affecting his business as trucks end up stranded on the Vietnam border.
He hopes the pandemic is contained within two weeks and his business returns to normal.
Hanh and Ha are unable to hide their tears when speaking about their rental and utility bills even as the strict restrictions prevent them from earning a livelihood.
Hanh, a trader, says: “My supplies are limited because of this outbreak. Goods are stranded at the border and cannot be shipped to Vietnam.
Ha says: “I have to pay VND18 million (over $787) a month to rent my warehouse, not to mention rent for my house and utilities”.
She admits to feeling the economic pinch and struggling to pay rents without an income. The one silver lining is that her landlord has not raised her rent.
However, many of the Vietnamese in Shenzhen have great trust and hope in the government’s zero-Covid policy.
Hanh says: “I am scared of Covid since it is more fatal than common flu. In China, many people have died”.
Echoing her, Ha says the zero-Covid policy is essential.
“Many people have been infected. I have children and so must be careful. I have read that recovered Covid patients have aftereffects for long”.
She believes the tough Covid policies would keep everyone safe.
A resident undergoes a coronavirus test in Shenzhen. Photo by AFP
Earlier this year it took China more than 20 days to contain an outbreak, and so Ha believes the current spike will be under control soon.
The outbreak in China is currently spreading faster than during previous waves, with the daily caseload skyrocketing from a few dozens in February to more than 5,100 on March 15, the highest ever. This gravest outbreak in two years has forced lockdowns on virus hotspots.
AFP reported that at least 13 cities were fully locked down as of Tuesday last week, and several others had partial lockdowns.
Tung says, “Wuhan has taught Chinese a lesson, so they know what they should do”.
He says many of his Vietnamese friends in China admire the zero-Covid policy. They all see the effectiveness of this strict Covid containment policy and have been supported with food and groceries during the lockdown, he says.
“China wants to protect its people because it has a huge population, and can effectively provide necessities to everyone”.
Last weekend the country reported its first Covid-19 deaths in more than a year when two people succumbed in Jilin Province.
The deaths took the coronavirus death toll to 4,638 since the start of the pandemic.
While 87.9 percent of China’s 1.4 billion people having got two shots of vaccinates — a high rate compared to most countries — the numbers decline with age, with the figure dropping to 82 percent for those between 70 and 79 years, according to Bloomberg.
President Xi Jinping has recently promised to tweak the Covid-fighting approach so that it is less disruptive to the economy.
“I think China is doing a great job in containing the virus,” Tung says.
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