COVID-19 Around the World

Jenny in Shanghai, China

Stories about COVID-19 from different corners of the world

The Unexpected Year of the ‘Gengzi’ Rat

End of December 2019, Shanghai. Like all Chinese I was busy preparing for the coming Chinese New Year, to celebrate the year of the Rat. This time will be a special Rat.

It happens to be the Year of ‘Gengzi’ according to the Chinese zodiac. This occasion only happens every 60 years, bringing with it natural disasters and war. It’s the Chinese year of doom. I didn’t really take this folk tale seriously as I never had GengZi Rat before. Seeing is believing!

Shanghai, China: view of the river with the pearl tower

Man selling books, before the coronavirus pandemic.

The Chinese new-year is the most important festival for us, everyone will go home for an extended family reunion. Everyone is assigned to do something to prepare and this year I was responsible for bookings:

  • Lunch with the Bund-view restaurant in the Peace Hotel
  • A Photo shoot
  • Tickets for Disneyland


On December 31st of last year, I came across a message on Wechat: “unknown pneumonia was found in WuHan and National Healthcare Commission specialists had arrived on site”. Unknown? This word sounded so familiar and immediately rang a bell. I commented on the message: “Could the cause of the disease be the same as the SARS then?”

A bad feeling flashed into my mind that moment, I recalled the months we fought against SARS in 2003. Soon, however, focus shifted back to the New-year preparations.

Until January 14th 2020 when my attention was grabbed by the breaking news that 41 pneumonia cases were confirmed in WuHan! What really struck me was the media reporting that people from WuHan were still traveling to Shanghai.

WeChat message about unknown pneumonia in WuHan.

On 20 Jan, Shanghai confirmed its first Coronavirus case. Although it should not be a surprise, I still felt bad hearing this bad news. My instant reaction on that was to remind my family members and friends to wear masks and avoid being in crowds. Just like we did during the SARS epidemic.

Next day, Shanghai confirmed its 2nd case. The National Health Council made an announcement, categorizing the Corona-virus-pneumonia as the highest level infectious disease. This made me realize even more how serious this was. Announcements like this were only seen during the SARS periods. I sensed the coming days would be very different.

Action! Action! Action! I was telling myself. I went on-line shopping straight away for masks, disposable gloves, rubbing alcohol, and sterilized cotton balls. I finally got everything except the 3M masks. They were all sold out!

We canceled our bookings and the family reunion. Obviously all of us were very upset but this decision had to be made. It was the only way to protect each other.

Just two days later, on 23 Jan 2020, we witnessed the televised lock-down of WuHan. This was shocking! This new virus must be more way serious than SARS! During SARS there was never any lock-down of any city. And this was right before Chinese New-year’s Eve! Unexpected! Unprecedented!

Instead of the big dinner we had planned, we only had a simple nuclear family dinner on New Year’s Eve. During the day, the traditional spring gala was on TV but my full attention was caught by the news about medical teams from Shanghai and the army who were on their way to WuHan. These warriors were leaving their families to go and save lives!

Social-media images of the response to contain the coronavirus in WuHan

From now on we closely followed the information and suggestions shared by the National Healthcare Commission and specialists. Wearing masks in public places and washing hands frequently. This is what we must do to curb the tide.

We saw the cherry blossoms downstairs and knew spring had come. However, staying at home as much as possible and social distancing was what everyone of us kept in mind and followed without fail. Unless we had to go out for food or to the hospital, we all voluntarily stayed at home for more than a month. This helped our city and especially the hospitals to have enough time and capacity to cope with patients. E-commerce is well developed in China. We could shop for everything on-line and no longer needed to be in grocery stores, super- or hyper markets.

As a result of our collective efforts, COVID-19 was finally under control in this enormous city, with a population over 30 million. We’ve only had 667 confirmed cases up to date. Having said that, although the city is now reopened and back on track, we’re still alert and wear masks outside all the time.

Take things as they come. When the unexpected and troublesome year of the GengZi Rat is half-done, can the lucky year of the Ox be far behind?

Jenny Xian, Shanghai, China

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