Barriers and Thermometers: China and the Coronavirus

The Spring Festival or Chinese New Year is the biggest celebration in China. It is a time where the largest migration of people happens as hundreds of millions of Chinese head back to their hometowns to celebrate with large meals, fireworks and enjoying spending time with family they have not seen all year. However, this year, it has been significantly different. 

As people began making their plans to return, news started coming out of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. The news was beginning to be reported about a pneumonia-causing virus that was spreading very quickly. As this news started to spread that a new virus had been discovered, the first death was recorded due to the novel coronavirus. In a few days, cases had been reported in Thailand and Japan. It was not long until cases were confirmed on every continent. 

Just two days before the Chinese New Year, the entire city of Wuhan was placed under quarantine. At that time, Wuhan was locked down and all train and plane travel was suspended. There were already around 200 confirmed cases of people infected with the coronavirus. As of today, February 6th, there are more than 28,000 people who have been diagnosed with this virus and over 500 who have entered eternity.

But, what is it like now in China? Flights to many countries have been reduced or canceled altogether. Now should be the time when the city awakens from its celebratory slumber to get back into daily life, but if you walk around in our city, cars and pedestrians are few. One cannot help but notice all the various ways in which life has changed so drastically in a little over three weeks.  

Barriers and Thermometers

Though Wuhan and effectively Hubei have all been sealed off from the rest of China and the world, the rest of China is also putting into place restrictions and measures to help slow the spread of this virus. At first, we began receiving daily text messages on our phones telling us about the need to protect ourselves from the new virus. A four-page notice from the city government was placed inside our elevator. 

Four-page notice in our elevator

Now, as we enter grocery stores, our temperatures are checked to ensure we do not have fevers before allowing us to enter. Some stores even require us to sign in with our names and phone numbers. Trucks with large electric signs drive around with the notice from our elevator scrolling on it with loudspeakers blaring its message. Large red and white banners are hung on fences that say things like, “If you have symptoms, go to the hospital early, don’t spread the disease”.

Wall blocking back exit of an apartment complex

More recently, they have put up metal walls blocking the back exits of our apartment complex. They have roped off the entrance to the front and only one gate allows the complex’s residents in or out. Just this week, my family and I made a visa run to South Korea to extend our stay in China. Upon our return, we noticed that restrictions had gotten even tighter. 

While taking the highway from the airport, as we were about 10 minutes from home, entering the toll booth to get into the city, every car was required to pull over. Medical workers were waiting to scan our foreheads with digital thermometers to ensure that we were fever-free. Many police officers were working to record everyone’s name, passport number or Chinese ID number, address, phone number and from where we had traveled. 

Medical worker checking passenger’s temperatures

Now, our apartment complex has been almost completely sealed off. No outside cars are allowed to enter. We have to register when we come back in and write down where we had gone. The first floor doors that open to the outside street are now chained shut, and the residents of our entire complex (between 5 buildings, totals 105 floors of people) now have to leave through just one exit in the parking garage to ensure that the guards can keep track of everyone coming in and going out. 

Another thing we must do in China, every time we leave the country and re-enter, is register with our local police station. When coming back from South Korea this week, everything with this process seemed to go smoothly, until we received notice that because we had traveled out of the country and came back, we were not permitted to leave our apartment for the next two weeks so that we could monitor our health to ensure that we did not pick up the virus during our travels. We are required to send a message to the police officer every day for the next 14 days that includes the temperatures of all 4 of us. We have thought about many scenarios when it comes to living and ministering in China, and this is not one of them.

The Human Toll

China’s 70th Anniversary Parade

It could be easy to write about all that has happened to us in these last few weeks as we have watched these events unfold, but there is so much more that is going on. Last October, China celebrated its 70th anniversary of becoming the People’s Republic of China under communist rule. They proudly displayed their might and achievement. Yet, a microscopic parasite is bringing this country to a standstill.

Right now, many are in fear. They are afraid to get out. They are afraid to travel. Universities and schools have delayed their openings for the same reason. People do not want to risk their health and they do not want to risk death. And understandably so, the fact is that this disease has already claimed many lives and it looks like it will continue to do so. But it is not only those who are infected who are affected by this.

One man became ill and was taken to a hospital to be treated. His son, who had cerebral palsy had to be left at home. The local village clinic said they would look after him, but failed to do so. In the end, this young man with cerebral palsy died because he had no caregiver. It is such a tragedy that this would happen, and sadly, it is probably happening because there is always more to the story than just the reported numbers. 

I know in the West, the news is either ignored, greatly exaggerated to gain ratings or simply dismissed as fear-mongering. But I believe as Christians, we cannot look at this world as simply Americans who care only for the interest of America. If we love God, then we will love what God loves, and I can tell you without a doubt, God loves the Chinese people. He loved them so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for their sins. 

This virus is not just some event happening on the other side of the world that does not really matter, simply because there is no large outbreak in America. This virus is affecting the lives of over 1.4 billion people in China and is causing people to enter Christ-less eternities. Will we, like Christ, look upon the multitudes as sheep with no shepherd and have compassion as He did? If these events do not stir our hearts for the souls of men, will we examine our perspectives and ask God to create in us the right attitudes?

Let us pray for China. Let us pray that this outbreak is stopped and the march into eternity can be slowed down enough that we can reach this large nation with the Gospel. Let us pray that God will use this to bring people to their knees, realizing that they need a Saviour. What China needs is Christ. 

“Christ for the world, for the world needs Christ.” – Eric Liddell, missionary to China

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