Column: Is this the new normal?


Photo credit: Emma Frank

I watch a CNN news broadcast about the recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Shanghai, China. It is troubling to watch the pandemic continue its rampage throughout the world, and makes me wonder when life will go back to normal.

By Sydney Frank , Columnist

Countless countries across the world are starting to lift restrictions that were first imposed in 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19 . This includes travel restrictions, social distancing, mask-wearing and quarantining. But despite this slow return to normalcy in the West, in the United States or European Union countries, China is currently undergoing its biggest COVID-19 outbreak in two years, primarily in the city of Shanghai.

China’s zero-COVID policy has been tremendously successful in containing COVID-19 cases in the past, with just over 4,600 deaths since 2019 prior to this recent outbreak. To put this into perspective, close to 1 million people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. In contrast to the living with COVID-19 strategy the U.S. has taken, China’s zero-COVID strategy “aims to stamp out all outbreaks and chains of transmission using border controls, mass testing, quarantines and stringent lockdowns.”

Countries such as Australia and New Zealand have also implemented aspects of this strategy in their policies at varying levels.

But now a question emerges: Is China’s zero-COVID policy actually working?

For the last two years, Shanghai citizens have endured some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions. Although they were harsh, citizens tolerated it because they believed it was better to live a comparatively COVID-free life than live overseas, where the effects of the pandemic steadily increased. But as cases have started to rise again, a citywide lockdown for all 26 million Shanghai residents was imposed in late March; they are not allowed to leave their neighborhoods unless they get tested.

A majority of the 30,000 cases in Shanghai have been deemed non-life-threatening, as there have been no deaths reported so far. Although this is great news, the surge has put an incredible strain on China’s health care system, as individuals who contract the virus are only allowed to stay in hospitals or quarantine centers.

Currently, citizens are starting to reach their limits, especially because no one knows when the lockdown will end. It is ignorant to believe that people will not grow tired of working from home, watching families be separated and keeping their children from school. The growing unrest within the Chinese public has become increasingly apparent. Many have even taken to the internet and social media to express their frustration with the Chinese government, describing how it is a challenge to even access basic supplies like food or medicine.

Videos and stories have surfaced across the internet of individuals suffering in the wake of this lockdown. One troubling story, in particular, highlights an off-duty nurse in Shanghai who died after being turned away from an emergency ward at the hospital she worked at, all because it was closed for disinfection.

One popular comment on the Chinese social media platform Weibo said, “We are not killed by COVID, but by the COVID control measures.”

In all honesty, this recent outbreak of cases in China raises the question of how close we actually are to achieving true normalcy in a post-pandemic world. I mean, here in the U.S., I would say that things have more or less returned to the way they were — besides the fact that I will probably continue to wear a mask on airplanes. But who’s to say that we won’t experience another surge like China did?

Although any increase in cases is troubling, it is lucky that a majority of Chinese citizens have been vaccinated, and therefore are at less risk. I can only hope that before any more permanent damage is done to communities, families and relationships, we can overcome this pandemic once and for all.

The fact that people are dying from the rules and restrictions that are supposed to protect them is utterly ridiculous. How can we survive a national pandemic and people are being turned away from hospitals and separated from their families? We have become so accustomed to isolating ourselves in the wake of COVID-19, that we’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be normal. We can be physically isolated, but we cannot afford to give up on each other.