The following post is the tenth 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, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth part of the series.
Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.
This installment was written between March 9 and March 10, 2020. The original Chinese diaries are published on Matter News.
Yesterday I received a call from the hotline. The call came from an education worker in Beijing who returned home during the Chinese New Year and was restricted by pandemic traffic controls. Her company asked her to resume work on February 7, but she could not make it to Beijing. She has a computer and can work from home. However, the department manager did not approve of remote work and did not assign her work. The days are counted as unpaid leave.
On March 6, the department manager told her, “You either come back to Beijing and work or you quit.” She went back Beijing on March 7, but her company asked her to resign the day after. No other staff member in her company is facing a similar situation.
Recently, a friend who works in the tourism industry has also been affected by the pandemic. Her company did not pay her salary this January and February. The word is that the company will only release salaries in May or June and has plans to cut staff. They will call them back to work after the pandemic ends.
During the pandemic, the whole country was locked down completely. Outside Hubei, many employees also failed to return to the cities where they have jobs. Many businesses could not make any profit due to the market shutdown.
A resident from our district sent a photo to our group. The photo shows a doll composed of vegetables including potatoes, carrots, white turnips, peppers, and cabbages. The message on the photo says, “I don't want to eat these vegetables anymore when the lockdown is over.” People are tired of their repetitive daily routines.
One time I brought up a question to my friends, “If you had to choose only one kind of food for the rest of our lives, what would you choose?” Potatoes and beans turned out to be most popular choice. I chose potatoes. Potatoes can fill up your stomach, they are delicious and can be cooked in different styles. I stored some potatoes, but I have not eaten them yet as green vegetables are still available.
I want to talk about the town government in Ximazhen in Xishui County, Hubei Province billing workers who helped build the field hospital [Huoshenshan Hosptal] for their quarantine stay.
This story started after two workers posted their bills on the internet. After being reported in local media outlets, the issue got a lot of attention over the next two days. It also opened up a public debate about the issue of quarantine fees — a bitter issue for many who have been quarantined.
The amount charged by the Ximazhen town government is not really that expensive.
Let us take a look at their salary first. The daily salary of the two field hospital construction workers was RMB 800 and 1200 yuan respectively (approximately US$ 113 to 170 dollars). After they finished work and the quarantine period, the local government asked them to pay for their accommodation and food during their quarantine. It came to RMB150 yuan (US$ 21 dollars) per day. They were asked to pay RMB 2100 Yuan (US$ 296) for the 14 days of quarantine. Together they paid a total of RMB 4200 Yuan (US$ 593 dollars).
When these workers were forced to pay for their quarantine, they left harsh remarks [for the authorities]: The quarantine bill is illegal.
From the perspective of the town government, they were just following the rules. They charged these people based on the county government's official notice that people should pay for their quarantine. However, in response to the public outrage, the Deputy Mayor of Ximazhen, who was responsible for managing quarantine, was removed from his position. The quarantine fee was returned back to the two workers on March 7.
What I want to say is this — while the two workers got their RMB 2100 yuan back, what about the bills paid by others who were forced to be quarantined or repatriated?
What I want to stress is – now that Ximazhen has returned the quarantine fee, which is the cost of pandemic control. The question follows is whether this pandemic control cost be paid by the quarantined individuals or by the government? [Note: Currently, individuals are required to pay for their quarantined fee.]
Many medical staff members have come to Wuhan to help and they will be quarantined when they return home. Who should pay for their accommodation and food during quarantine? Should they pay or should the government?
I think those who help fight the pandemic and those who were quarantined should not be charged so that people are willing to be compliant with quarantine measures. In addition, local governments should be prohibited from expelling people who return from the epidemic areas or charge them extra fees for their quarantine. Such punitive measures would force many, in particular the poor, into homelessness. They won't be able sustain themselves.
Dr. Ai Fen, the COVID-19 whistleblower, has come forward. She is the person who took a photo of the “SARS coronavirus” test results and sent it to her former classmates. Today when I read Dr. Ai Fen's interview in People Magazine online, I took a screenshot of the the post because I anticipated that it would be deleted later.
After the original article was deleted, people started to share the same article after it was republished in other media outlets. But the republished posts were deleted too. Then people made PDF files of the article, so we can save it on WeChat and share it with friends. This article “The Whistle Distributor” has circulated in my social circle throughout the day.
This is not the first time, and won't be the last time, that we will see this kind of synchronized resistance. We all know that we are not allowed to speak the truth or we will be punished. However, there are still people who are brave enough to speak up, and we value these people and try our best to spread their messages. I hope one day we will not need pay for the price for speaking the truth.
It was a sunny today. The chill from yesterday is gone. Residents went out into the yard.
Mr. Chou also walked his dog downstairs. His dog is called Panding. We talked about the pandemic again. Mr. Chou said some of his friends had traveled out of Wuhan but they could not come back now even if they wanted to. They need to pay RMB 800-900 yuan (US $113 to 127 dollars) for accommodation everyday. Two of his friends passed away after they were infected. One was in thier 40s, and the other was in thier 80s. Their relatives have not gotten their ashes yet.
Mr. Chou said, “It happened too fast. They died just two weeks after they were infected. The process is much faster than cancer.” During the pandemic, one of his friends lost his father to a stroke and he couldn't even say goodbye.