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On the ground in Wuhan: a COVID-19 AMA

Since late last year one of our software engineers, Mike Zhang, has been locked down in Wuhan, China; ground zero of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite this unprecedented situation, Mike has demonstrated resilience and resolve in the face of uncertainty.

We recently held an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Mike where he fielded questions from all PaperCutters on what it’s been like living in the epicentre of COVID-19. This blog was repackaged from his responses.

If you are at all feeling anxious or under stress, we highly recommend you have a read. Mike’s experience and insights provide some much-needed perspective and scope during this difficult period.

PAPERCUT: When did you first hear about COVID19? Did you foresee this having such a global impact?

MIKE ZHANG: “I first heard the news about COVID-19 around December 30, 2019, through Chinese social media and YouTube channels. I kind of expected the virus would hit the entirety of China because I can still remember the days of SARS when the local government tried to downplay the numbers.

“My original plan was to skim through the troubled water and fly out after all the government paperwork was done. I never imagined the entire city and the province would be locked down, employing centuries-old quarantine measures.

“I underestimated the long incubation period of COVID-19. Unlike SARS in 2003, I never expected this new virus could slip through the tight control of the Chinese government and become a global pandemic.”

What is the mood in the streets over there right now? We are experiencing fear and uncertainty in Victoria. Has that changed in Wuhan now that this has been going for a while?

“The situation is calm now after the government’s tight control over people’s movement. Although it’s inconvenient and jeopardizes your freedom of assembly, this centuries-old tactic did postpone the spreading of the disease.

“In the meantime, Italy and France are trying to implement similar measures to contain the disease. It is wise for us individuals to remain at home to minimise the risk of catching and spreading the virus. I think the citizens will get used to the extreme quarantine measures, at least there are plenty of things you can do online without physical presence nowadays.”

Is the virus still spreading over there?

“The municipal government of Wuhan is focusing on rescuing patients with critical conditions, there are still 2000+ cases of them as I speak.

“The government outside of Wuhan is trying to resume normal economic activities since the virus already made a huge impact. The central government cannot afford to lose more GDP growth.

“The peak of the pandemic in China is gone, but the government is trying to control the influx of cases imported from outside of China since countries like Italy are experiencing what we had already experienced months ago.”

Food and goods hoarding has become a serious issue worldwide, has there been concerns about food supply in Wuhan?  How do you get food or go shopping?

“In the early days of lockdown, I could always walk to local franchise supermarkets and purchase daily essentials such as food and medicine. Larger shopping malls are also within walking distance. So I was not so worried about daily essentials, maybe because I live quite close to the CBD (approx 10-15km).

“Weeks later the local government sealed off all residential communities. But we can still purchase food and medical supplies in bulk in a Groupon fashion through government-employed community agents. If you are old or unable to collect daily essentials, they can even arrange someone to deliver supplies to your doorstep.”

You’ve been in social isolation for about 10 weeks now, is the government talking about relaxing this yet?

Or are they waiting for an antiviral medication to become available before ending the ‘lockdown’ to avoid infection case numbers rising again?

“Wuhan is the special case here, but there is no plan of easing the lockdown at the moment.

“According to the previous experience of the 2003 SARS outbreak, the government lifted the control, although no official travel ban at that time, after 28 days of no new reported cases. So I’m expecting a similar situation.

“But previous experience might not apply to current situations as COVID-19 has already become a global pandemic. There’s an influx of undiagnosed cases from outside of China due to Chinese immigrants wanting to fly back and be treated.

“Regions outside of Wuhan already resumed normal economic activities but there are special controls and measures in place to make sure there will not come a second round.”

Is there any information coming from the Chinese government that is referring to implementing any new measures to stopping more viruses from coming out of China?

“Just a couple days ago, a massive amount of inbound flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Chengdu were cancelled due to the government trying to set up strict quarantine measures to isolate those immigrants trying to fly back. The special hospital, Xiaotangshan, established during the 2003 SARS period, was recommissioned for this purpose.”

Have Chinese drug companies got any trials running yet?

“A new drug, Remdesivir developed by Gilead, is already undergoing phase III double-blind clinical trials in some Chinese hospitals now. The results will be published on 27 April.

“Favipiravir, another anti-RNA virus drug developed by Toyama Chemical of Japan, has already gained the approval of mass production in China. I think there will be more drugs available fighting against the coronavirus.”

What have you and others in your family community been doing that keeps life fun? What tips can you share for those of us just entering social isolation?

“Cheering up. It’s not gonna be the end of the world. It’s just a little bit of inconvenience even for us living in the epicentre. What else could go wrong for people living in less-affected regions? So I’m taking the advantages of the positive side that I can spend more time with my family. It is a rare chance since I migrated to Australia.

“To keep my mind occupied, I always spend my time on educational channels on YouTube as I would normally do in my spare time in Australia. Plus I’ve got more time to learn other technical stuff like other programming languages and ecosystems.

“So not much has changed for me except I also spend time watching talk shows on YouTube joking about the virus and politicians. I think that’s the spirit I need to keep myself up.

“Regarding activities that can cheer you up, my friends and families are playing Nintendo Switch fitness and exercise games to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy. Which in my opinion is the best way of keeping your family busy and happy.”

What is your advice to someone who is a bit nervous about distributed working and has never worked remotely on a regular basis?

“It is always a good idea to lock yourself up in a quiet room without outside distractions during working hours. Play some background music you love to cancel out the noise around you. Focus on the tasks at hand instead of continuously browsing the news.

“Maintain your daily routines as much as you can, look on the positive side, you are free from the messy rushing hours, and you can spend more time with your family.”

We’d like to thank Mike for sharing his story and we wish him all the best. We’ll continue to support him during our global Distributed Working model.

And we, of course, look forward to hearing more of his tales over coffee and donuts when he finally returns to Melbourne.

You can find out more about how PaperCut is responding to COVID-19 including a word from our CEO and co-founder, Chris Dance .


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