🔒 Saffers report from coronavirus’s epicentre: “Everything has changed” in China

This fresh take on China’s debilitating coronavirus comes to us from two South African schoolteachers who are working deep inside the Middle Kingdom. Durbanites Gary and Andy Cronje share their on-the-ground experiences of endless scanning, empty streets and closed shops that reflect how seriously the Chinese authorities are taking a plague that has now killed almost 500 with a critical list having expanded to over 10% of the 20,000 confirmed infections. The duo aren’t coming home – at least not yet. – Alec Hogg

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Everything has changed. It is dramatically different. We’ve had the ultimate staycation. Everything is on lockdown. Roads are empty. It’s like a Zombie Apocalypse.


That’s how South Africans living and working in China describe life in the Middle Kingdom after the deadly coronavirus brought the world’s second-largest economy to a standstill.

“Malls are closed. Only shops that supply in bulk are open. We are lucky, we can walk there. Taxi services are limited,” Gary and Andy Cronje told BizNews broadcaster Alec Hogg.

China coronavirus
Pic Credit: Gary Cronje

The Cronjes live in a community of five high rises in Hangzhou, a city of about 10m people, in the highly industrialised Zhejiang province. “There is a complex, with security. We are scanned when we return home. Convenience stores are closed,” they tell Hogg, in this BizNews podcast.

“When we go out of the complex, we go up to Bravo (a supermarket). In order to enter, they will take our temperature. We are not allowed to bring any produce or bags into the supermarket. We are scanned with a digital thermometer,” they explain.

Police stop people who do not wear face masks to reduce the spread of the disease, says Gary.

Coronavirus incubates for 14 days, so the authorities are worried that people are transmitting it before it becomes visible, Andy points out.

China coronavirus
Pic Credit: Gary Cronje

The Cronjes had two bouts of antibiotics after being hit by a bug before the coronavirus problem raised its ugly head. With hindsight, medical personnel appear to have been worried about coronavirus before the authorities declared the emergency. “The doctor said don’t eat chicken, fish or eggs for 14 days,”says Andy of the advice they received from a doctor not long before the spread of coronavirus became a national emergency.

Advice to the Cronjes included: “Don’t touch your face. Don’t rub your eyes. Don’t put your fingers in your mouth until you have washed your hands.”

The old people are scrubbing floors, washing down lift doors, walls. People are walking around with big tanks of disinfectant, spraying everything, says Gary.

China coronavirus
Pic Credit: Gary Cronje

Spitting – a widespread habit in China – is a significant challenge in curbing the spread of the virus, according to the Cronjes, who set out the details of “one of the strangest habits we’ve had to get used to”. A “happy truck” dedicated to cleaning spit off the floors can be seen regularly and heard – as it plays a “small world” as it drives around the urban areas.

Hangzhou is about 300km away from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak.

Although various governments have made moves to help their citizens in China, and bring them home, South Africans are isolated.

The Cronjes say attempts to make contact with South African embassy staff were fruitless.

“It is quite frustrating. We got some information that says we can look on a website in connection with communicable diseases. It tells you about the virus, but doesn’t tell us  ‘this is what you should do or where you should go for treatment’.

From different feedback, the South African authorities are leaving their citizens in China to fend for themselves, is the message in this podcast.