|On December 18, 2019, Fudan University changed its charter to exclude
its commitment to "freedom of thought" and demoted "academic
independence" to a spot below patriotism. As this was happening, I was
busy grading my students’ papers as the fall semester approached its
end. To get more latest Shanghai news, you can visit shine news official website.
Exactly one month later, the South China Morning Post reported a suspected case of the novel coronavirus in Shanghai. The event went unreported in mainland Chinese media, even as tourists from Wuhan with confirmed cases of the condition were hospitalized in Japan and Thailand. Meanwhile, notices from the Hong Kong Public Health Department about preventing pneumonia and respiratory tract infections circulated in many WeChat groups, reactivating horrible memories of the 2003 SARS outbreak. After Shanghai’s first coronavirus case and human-to-human transmission were both confirmed on January 20, I told myself to prepare for the worst scenario.
Events in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, did not mirror my cautious approach. For example, the local government organized a Lunar New Year potluck banquet for more than 40,000 families. I was shocked and furious when I saw the news.
On January 21, 2020, I confronted a former classmate, now a professor and vice dean at Wuhan University, in a WeChat group with members from our graduate program. I said that local scholars should speak out and ask the local leadership to be proactive. Their irresponsibility and ignorance had the potential to harm the whole world given how deadly and contagious the virus was already proving to be. Despite the mounting evidence, my former classmate questioned whether the reports of the virus were real. Even now, I cannot blame him for his sense of security because he believed the city was in good hands.
Another classmate in the same WeChat group, who is a civil servant in Guangdong, told us that when four people in the province died of the coronavirus, she was informed of the news in an internal meeting that same day. She also said that she was using masks provided by her office because local pharmacies had run out of them. Another friend, who works for the government in Beijing, advised me early in the outbreak to be vigilant. When I mentioned my concerns about mask quality in mainland China, he said that only the masks he received from his office were good quality. The ones his family bought online were inadequate for self-protection. It seemed that higher-ranking public servants tended to have better access to information and personal protective equipment than the general population.
Public awareness of COVID-19 in Shanghai dramatically changed in late January. News of the first confirmed case of community transmission in the Yangpu district, where I used to live, surfaced in a WeChat group I was in. Apparently, a woman from Wuhan who was visiting her daughter in Shanghai had fled a local hospital after she was hospitalized with COVID-19 on January 21. Information on her whereabouts and her daughter’s several Shanghai apartments was posted in many local WeChat groups. In the end, the Shanghai police quickly found her and returned her to the hospital. Nevertheless, this first case in our district confirmed that the virus was at our doorsteps. After that, we kept our children indoors for their own protection.
Rumors about the case spread on Chinese social media. Some people wondered how this woman’s daughter could own five apartments in downtown Shanghai, three of which are in neighborhoods where housing prices often top RMB 10 million ($1.4 million). Other people gave a name for the woman and claimed she was a high-ranking CCP cadre from Wuhan who had abandoned the epidemic to spend the holidays with her family. Further speculation asserted that the woman bought her daughter’s properties in Shanghai using funds she had obtained through corruption. On January 22, the city of Wuhan issued a notice stating that Liu Qingxiang, vice director of the Wuhan CDC and the subject of many of these rumors, had not left Wuhan and had been working on the front lines of the outbreak.
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