The following post is the fourth in a series of diaries written by independent filmmaker and feminist scholar Ai Xiaoming and feminist activist Guo Jing. Both are living in Wuhan at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are the links to the first, second and third part of the series.
This fourth installment was written between February 11-16, 2020. The original Chinese diaries are published on Matter News.
Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.
It is a cloudy today. I did not plan to go out this morning. However, I saw a notice sent from Wuhan COVID-19 Prevention and Command Center last night and they decided to implement lockup management of all residential districts all across the city. I feel the need to go out to see whether this new measure has started, and what is the meaning of lockup management.
There were three people other than the security guard at the entrance of the residential district. No one stopped me when I went out. I went to the supermarket. There were a lot of vegetables, but most meat was sold out. Yogurt was sold at a 50% discount. When I went to the meat counter, the staff put a few types of newly packed meat on the shelves and I bought three packs. Some snacks were sold out, too. I bought some beef jerky.
As I anticipated that this might be my last day to go out, I wanted to stay outside as long as possible. I rode my bicycle around the city. When I went back to my community, they told me, “It is better not to go outside so often.” I was worried and asked them, “How about buying food?”
“I still need to go out when I run out of food.”
“You can still go out.”
“Will you be here every day?”
“No. The security guard will be here every day. Today there is an inspection from the city government.”
They do not only lockup the virus, but also humans.
Back home, I separated the three packs of meat into 14 small packs. Then I will have some meat to eat every day during the following two weeks.
After the lockdown, a colleague in our women’s rights working group asked me how much I know about domestic violence in a locked down city. She said with worry, “If a woman becomes a victim of domestic violence and reports it to the police, would policemen go to check it out? Would the victims receive the support they need?”
In a locked down city, when a woman becomes a victim of domestic violence, the policemen who usually consider domestic violence domestic would be more reluctant to check it out.
Furthermore, it is difficult for the victims to find social support, because all social service institutions are closed now. It is also difficult for the victim to leave her house, because it is not likely to find someone willing to accommodate her now. Since public transportation is currently shut down, she cannot go somewhere far, and most hotels are closed.
This morning when I went out, I saw sunshine penetrating through the clouds and touching the ground. When I walked out, the security guard did not stop me or ask me any questions. I felt lucky to go out freely. Yesterday a friend asked if I am lack anything right now. I lack freedom.
There has been less traffic noise since the city was locked down. I can hear the birds singing. I saw a senior citizen practicing Tai Chi on another side of the building. The supermarkets started to manage their customers: people have to queue up 5 to 6 meters away from the entrances, and people have to maintain 1 meter distance.
At a road intersection there was a desk for community workers. There were thermometers and sanitizers on the desk. I saw an old lady talking to two of them.
After a while, that old lady left. I went to her and asked her what happened. She told me, “My husband needs to go to the hospital to see the doctor and buy some medicine. He does not have pneumonia. He suffered from stroke, and he needs to go to the hospital once a month. Who could predict what happens now? We have been waiting for several days. He could not walk to the hospital, but the community refused to arrange a car for him.”
It is difficult to buy the medicine that her husband needs. She talked to the other five in uniform in front of us. They told her that she should ask the community workers. She left in disappointment.
A friend in another city in Hubei Province told me she has been restricted to go out for several days. Yesterday, she received an announcement that no one in the community is allowed to go out, not even to buy food.
Yesterday morning, a member of her family put on a mask and hurried to buy some food with a pass. Many people were panic buying in the market. When she went to the potato corner, the person in front of her grabbed all the potatoes on the shelf and she had to beg the person to leave her some. In the afternoon, when members of her family tried to go out to buy more food, no one was allowed to leave anymore. This is exactly what happened when Wuhan was locked down — it was announced suddenly without informing the residents about how they could manage their lives.
When the government responds to a pandemic, in addition to containing the virus, it should also consider people's fear. However, on the contrary, some local governments encourage people to report suspects of COVID-19. One report would be awarded for RMB ten thousand (around US$1400 dollars). If a patient reports oneself, they would receive some cash too.
Our trust in the government and our trust in other people are consumed over time, but our fear is reinforced. In these days, control is getting more and more strict. The supermarkets restrict the number of customers inside. More and more districts have been locked up, and more and more quarantine centers have been set up. When people need help, the social workers and those in uniforms cannot do anything to help. I feel desperate.
I found water seeping outside the wall of my apartment this afternoon, and the water infiltrated into my apartment…I told the landlord about it, and she asked me to tell the estate manager. This is not something pressing, so I do not think the manager would not bother fixing it.
It was snowing this afternoon. I grew up in northern China, but I have seldom seen snow since moving to southern China. I thought if I went downstairs, I could see the snow. When I went downstairs, I saw the door of the estate manager was closed, so I thought there was no one inside. I went to security guard to ask about the property management service. When I walked to the gate of our community, the security guard stopped me before I spoke. He told me, “You can only go out if you go to a hospital or go to work, and you need to ask the estate manager to give you a pass. I was worried, “How about buying food?”
“You can go out to buy food, if you have a pass.”
“When did the new rule that forbids us to go out start?”
“It started today. We received the announcement from the local government.”
I asked other people in this community, “How can we get a pass to buy food?”
“We can go out once every three days.”
“I already used this mask and walked downstairs, can you let me go out and buy some food?”
“You cannot go out.”
All I could do is go back to my apartment.
I am worried about the new rules that forbid me to go out. I feel panic again. When I chatted with friends, I ate some food not because I was hungry but because I do not know when I will not have any food to eat again. I ate a piece of beef. I dare not eat too much.
I had some wild thoughts before I fell asleep: If the estate manager does not allow me to go out, I can sneak out from a broken fence. However, I am not sure what kind of punishment I would face if I sneak out. I am afraid that I could not bear the consequences of breaking the rule now, eventhough the rule is not reasonable.
Because I was rejected when I requested to go out yesterday, I did not know whether I could get a pass today. I gave it a try and went to the estate manager’s office. I told him that I wanted to buy some food, and the manager gave me a ‘temporary pass for residents’. My address and the dates that I can go out are written on the pass. The first date on it is February 12.
The fruits on the shelf outside the supermarket were less plentiful than usual. There was a lot of vegetables. The frozen fast food in one fridge was all sold out. There was less yogurt than usual. There were no spam or sausages. There was meat at the meat counter today.
What I felt today is similar to what I felt on the first day of the city lockdown. I am worried about survival again. Now we can go out once every three days. I do not know whether it will become once per five days, or once per ten days, or even once per month. I bought another 5kg pack of rice, two packs of noodles, and vegetables sufficient for one week.
From the city lockdown to the community lockup, restrictions on our activities have become stricter and stricter, and we are deprived of our power little by little.
The next time I can go out is February 19.
Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the Global Impact of COVID-19.