Duran: "People are remarkably adaptable and resilient and quickly become accustomed to the new norm when it’s their livelihood and wellbeing at stake."
Where are you at the moment and what were you doing there?
I am based in Beijing working at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a project finance lawyer.
How did daily life change in Beijing with the onset of Covid-19?
Although I was away for most of it, Beijing was under a strict lockdown for around six weeks. Even on my return to the city in mid-March, a state of partial-lockdown remained.
Mandatory self-quarantines for inbound passengers from overseas; temperature screenings and health code checks on the widely-publicised health app in public spaces and on entry into businesses; capacity restrictions in shops, bars and restaurants; strict sign-in procedures in all residential buildings.
The economic consequences for people here in China are the same as they have been for New Zealanders and other countries around the world. People have lost their jobs. Businesses have gone under. Local places that were once thriving parts of the community are shuttered and empty.
How would you describe the Beijing's response to the virus?
Beijing mobilised very quickly. Local movement restrictions, temperature checks, compulsory mark wearing, designated “fever clinics” and helplines were set up around the city even before first cases were confirmed. Beijing had the benefit of both the SARs experience and the public health response in Wuhan.
How did citizens adapt?
Very well, from what I can tell. People are remarkably adaptable and resilient and quickly become accustomed to the new norm when it’s their livelihood and wellbeing at stake.
In the rush of the previous normal days of life, it was easy to forget the importance of togetherness. But there is a sense here now that people can overcome this as a community. Everyone has a role and everyone plays a part.
Duran says that other than international borders being closed, life in Beijing has largely returned to normal
Why did you decide to come back to New Zealand?
I went back to New Zealand at the end of January when the Chinese New Year public holiday ended. At that stage I was already out of China in Vietnam windsurfing for the holiday and closely watching the spread of the virus from Wuhan to the rest of the China’s provinces.
Given how fast the situation was evolving day-to-day and how little information was available about the severity and spread of the virus, it seemed safer to return to New Zealand to wait things out. Back then, New Zealand had no cases. It was a safe place to be. I ended up back home for almost two months.
The time spent back home in Aotearoa was invaluable. Reconnecting with family, friends, network members. Taking the time to be present and grateful.
Why did you to choose to return to China?
I made the decision to return because it became apparent that the longer I waited, the more difficult it would be to fly back as flight and border restrictions began to fall into place around the globe.
I was lucky to take advantage of a small window of a few weeks when it was logistically possible to return to Beijing and resume “normal” life. Fortunately the return went smoothly. Very soon after China shut its borders to the world as COVID spread across the globe.
How are things in Beijing now?
China faced the virus first, and so has now come out the other side first. Although the international borders are still closed, life largely goes on as it did before.
We’re in the tail end of summer now, a time when people are outdoors making the most of fresh, clear skies and long, warm evenings before the Autumn winds arrive. People feel safe and relieved that, at least here, the worst of it is over (for now).