February 6 Fifteenth Day of the Wuhan City Closure
Wuhan is colder and rainier today. I am afraid this make many people suffer even more.
During the past few days many things have started to happen that I had been worrying about.
For example, now that epidemic prevention and control work has come down to the community level, many conflicts have broken out between residents and the community authorities. On our community WeChat group, I have seen many screenshots about quarrels and abusive language. I have also seen news of fights as well as tearing of face masks and protective suits. There are even rumors of several criminal incidents – although officials call this kind of news “rumor” and so I can’t confirm it.
From the standpoint of the community authorities, they lack funding, they lack manpower, they lack supplies, they lack experience and they lack authority. The community can really provide anything in the way of medical care or assistance. In any case, to be blunt, very many people working for the community care for elderly people for 3000 RMB a month. Their work capacity, their conscientiousness and their motivation are all very limited. It is too much to expect them to be front-line workers. From what I’ve seen over the past few days, personnel from the city, the district and the street committee levels haven’t been giving any systematic, scientific guidance about how the community workers could do their work better such as guidance on better work flow planning. They expect the community workers to figure all this out on their own – to “feel for the rocks as they cross the river” as the saying goes.
From the standpoint of ordinary residents (such as myself), dissatisfaction has been growing. Many communities have heretofore been “invisible” organizations. Many residents discovered their community after the epidemic began when they opened “Wei Neighborhood” (an official WeChat mini-program) and joined their community chat group. For now, I won’t discuss “vital matters” such as contacting hospitals and arranging for a hospital bed but instead information about small things related to daily life. These include disinfection and sterilization work of the neighborhood and buildings; work on the district’s daily epidemic information report; and food supplies. Different communities handle this very differently.
Over the past few days, the well-functioning communities have already brought fresh produce, prepared foods and vegetables into the community, sent out a message to the chat group, and arranged staggered times for every household to pick up supplies at designated pickup points. The decontamination work committee for the neighborhood and buildings shares photos of their work on the chat group to reassure the residents. To the best of my knowledge these communities are extremely few. I tend to think that these are communities served by excellent property management companies and not organized by the communities themselves.
After several days of criticisms, arguments and abuse on the chat groups, very many communities over the past two days have started issuing their own community epidemic reports. With that one exception, I haven’t still haven’t seen any perceptible improvement in their work.
Although community work is front-line grass-roots work, their usual work logic is that they are “grassroots management’, the “grassroots power” and not the “grassroots service”. That reflects the Chinese Communist Party’s logic of going from the top to the bottom and from the inner to the outer. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a big problem and one wouldn’t feel too acutely the conflicts and hypocrisy inherent in that. With the epidemic, we of course see completely exposed the bureaucracy, rigidity, dereliction of duty, and low efficiency there. Be that as it may, I expect that community work in Wuhan is certainly not among the worst in the country.
Even after the epidemic passes, these conflicts and divisions we have had will be with us for a long time to come.
The Wuhan International Expo Center and several prefabricated buildings have been pressed into service as hospitals. I heard from some friends there that the situation is not good. Systems for providing heat, medicine, food and other essentials are not yet in place. Especially serious is the lack of central heating. Each bed has an electric blanket but not all have accessible electric power yet. According to news I have seen in our neighborhood WeChat group, there have already been arguments and fighting with medical personnel in some prefabricated hospitals. I worry a lot about the current situation.
First of all, in an environment like that of the prefabricated hospitals it is very easy for people to become fearful and anxious. The emotions of one person can easily spread to the entire group. Moreover, since most there have only mild cases and can still move about to some extent, it would be very easy for criminal acts or riots to occur there.
Secondly, from the initial period of the epidemic right down to the present, the organizational ability, reaction time, supply logistics as well as site management and control skills of Wuhan officials has been abysmally low. Systematic planning based on scientific management principles is essential in guarantee that over a thousand people are provided with heat, food and medicine. I already see serious problems such as the lack of central heating, relying instead upon electric blankets on every bed. That is clearly a major fire hazard.
Thirdly, people say that those concentrated at the prefabricated hospitals have confirmed diagnoses by only mild cases of coronavirus pneumonia. Each patient will need very good care if they are to get better. I inquired of a friend who has already been diagnosed. Home-quarantined, he has obviously started to improve. Every day his family gives him chicken soup. Each meal is warm and carefully prepared. This excellent care laid the foundation for his recovery. At the prefabricated hospitals however, given the serious shortages of staff and supplies there, I fear that it will be very difficult to give patients the environment that they will need to get better. Where one thousand people are gathered together, eating, drinking and waste disposal are all problems. Never mind supplying them all with chicken soup, it is doubtful whether they can all be provided with hot water, not to mention adequate numbers of medical personnel, medicine and medical equipment.
In such an environment, once the condition of several individual patients deteriorates, fear and dissatisfaction will spread quickly.
I really hope that these worries of mine don’t come to pass.
I just saw in our friends’ Chat group saw a plea for help from a friend of many years. Now that her mother and grandmother have already started to have trouble breathing she is asking for help finding hospital beds for them. My friend’s father died two years ago. Her mother and grandmother are the only ones left of the older generation. Not only could I not help her, I didn’t even know how to console her. Anything I could say in the middle of a disaster like this would just fall flat.
Two days before the city was closed, some friends suggested that I hurry up and take my family away from Wuhan but I didn’t take their advice. I didn’t know whether I myself could already be a carrier of the virus and would then infect people elsewhere.
These days I wonder though whether I am too self-confident. At present, my family and I are blessed to be safe and sound and in good health. If any one of us were to be infected however, judging by the state of medical care in Wuhan today, I would have to blame myself for dragging my entire family on down to Hell.