In order to achieve zero tolerance for covid (one way of translating current policy), but still keeping the city somewhat functioning, Shenzhen has been conducting mass covid tests. In order to enter government and official buildings (such as schools, which haven’t yet announced when they will reopen), it is necessary to show that one has had a negative test within the past 48-hours. When a positive is discovered, the case (and they are known as 病例), their immediate housemates, building, residential community, and nearby area are subject to immediate testing. Then depending on proximity to the case, flow to and from to a possible contact zone is or is not resumed. The above map shows that I am presently living half-a-street away from a possible contact zone in Shekou.
Inquiring minds are probably wondering, just how specific is the targeting of cases, their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers? More precise than one might think. A recent WeChat post from the Shenzhen health commission described three cases and their area of activity. For example, Case 1, was a 19 year old young man, who works in an office, and lives in Alley 3, Qiaolian East, Ma’antang Community, Bantian Street Office, Longgang District. He and the other two cases are not severe. Nevertheless, residents are advised to avoid their activity areas (possible contact zones), including public bus stops, metro stations, specific buildings and shops.
From the perspective of management, this level of specificity must seem like all is under control. Might even seem like the system is flexible enough to achieve the dual goals of zero tolerance and keeping the city up and running. However, experientially, this form of quarantine is random and unpredictable.
A friend living near one of the buildings and within a possible contact zone, woke up to discover that her passport had turned yellow and that she had been locked inside her building until testing was completed. Another friend, who’s child has a Hong Kong identity card was required to quarantine even though neither he nor his mother has been to the SAR in over a year. Moreover, it is cold and rainy in Shenzhen, and many fear that they will catch cold waiting in line for their test. Although, at the moment, few are going out because the map of contact zones means it’s difficult to pass from one section of the city to another without risking one’s passport turning yellow. Moreover, as we’re currently not allowed to leave the city, there’s no place else to go.
Personally, I struggled to get into the system and have my covid test results sent to my phone. The problem? First, most data needs to be entered into the system through a Chinese-language system, which meant it took me an hour for my name to be accepted. I had to enter my English language name through the Chinese system for the code to be recognized.
The second problem is more annoying and pervasive. WeChat uses Chinese identity numbers to run all its algorithms. Like a social security card, ID numbers are for life. US passports, not. This means that renewing a passport includes trying to upgrade any account that was opened using a former passport. This is difficult because these systems have only been recently put in place and I have accounts that were opened three and four passports ago. Unsurprisingly, the changes haven’t been smooth and I continue to experience WeChat glitches.
Life outside the algorithm is this horrible situation in which it sucks to be in the system, but it’s worse not to be able to get in. And this rock and a hard place does explain something of official complacency about system disfunction; many of us are spending way too much time trying to adapt to a broken system because at the moment, it’s challenging (but not yet impossible) to live outside it. Consequently, those in charge and those of us in more functional bubbles may truly believe society is more stable than it actually is because we have few ways of knowing how much effort others are putting into the hard work of adaptation.