Covid-19. The view from Shanghai

Covid-19. The view from Shanghai

Here in China, we were the first to suffer the effects of Covid-19. Mercifully, we’re also the first to emerge from most of the restrictions imposed upon our lives and businesses. I thought I’d share my experience up to now, so you can see what might be in store for you and your location as we all emerge from the immediate restrictions. So let’s start at the beginning…

It feels like an age ago, but the first we heard of this virus here in Shanghai was government advice around Chinese New Year, (25th January) to wear surgical masks and try to reduce social life. There was a clear education effort from the government to the public that the potential incubation period was two weeks, so people who has travelled to Wuhan needed to be quarantined for 14 days.

This was a tough time to have to impose such restrictions. It’s a time (like Western Christmas, or Thanksgiving), where people traditionally visit their family and relatives. The government advised us not to do that. Also lots of Chinese work in different cities away from their hometown. The government suggested to us that we’d better not to travel around to reduce the chance to get virus from other members of the public. This advice was then backed up by other services. For instance, all mobile services companies offered a service so subdistrict offices can find out where were you in past 14 days from the signal of your mobile phone, so even if someone tried to lie about where they had been, to avoid quarantine, their digital trail told the truth, and they would still have to isolate. For people who passed quarantine (like me and my team) we then found a green QR code on our Alipay or WeChat, based on the government data, that meant that as long as we wear a mask, we were safe to go anywhere. 

Restrictions, here in Shanghai at least, lasted about a month. In that time I wasn’t tested for coronavirus. But that’s not to say no preventative action was taken. I got temperature checked in pretty much every place I went to, like office reception,my neighbourhood entrance, supermarket entrances etc. It was only if your body temperature is higher than 37,then the testing authority considered a test on you.

When restrictions were lifted, everything (almost) went back to normal. We can now go to work, go to the cafe, the gym,go shopping,all as long as we wear masks. Or we can even go for a picnic in the park. Oudoor activities are all good; movie theatres and touristic museums were opened for a short period but closed again and currently still remained closed. Similarly indoor group events are still not allowed. 

The order in which the restrictions were lifted could be similar that you’ll experience, so it’s worth sharing these too. The government first allowed supermarket and convenience stores to open for basic life supplies, then they start allow restaurant open but can only do take away and also delivery company open for people willing to stay home. Next they let shopping mall and other stores open but for shorter time (so, whereas they used to open 10am-10pm,now its more like 12pm-6pm). Then they allowed gyms and public stadiums. But advice and behaviour can be different. Whilst now people are allowed to go back to work, big businesses who have more employees still suggest that their team works from home instead. 

What remains is preventative. Workers have been added at train stations and airports,who test you temperature. Whoever tests positive will be send to the government managed hotel for individual observation and possible quarantine,with three times a day temperature test. 

Flights from abroad to China have been cut to around  flight a day and remain so. Also accepting foreigners has been stopped at the moment, to avoid new infection coming in.  

This experience was pretty disruptive to my business, which is centred around face-to-face events. The virus postponed all events. Every single one. So, we moved to communicating and interacting online. We also have worked hard to move from being engaged per event to being retained for on-going advice, across a broader range of clients from a broader range of sectors. 

I think that this shift will endure. From now, I’ll always try to offer several different services in different industries. And I’ll aim for my balance of work to be 60% retainer clients and 40% case by case clients. 

The advice that seemed to work well was – Stay home and try to have less social life. This is good advice for anyone at this time and should be followed. And, funnily, it’s not just for avoiding the virus,I feel like most people got a chance to review their life and slow down from the busy stressful city life. Lots of people start cooking again rather than calling food delivery,lots of people found  out a new way of living that works better than before. 

As for business, when people can not work face to face anymore the timing of how you adjust your business and adapt into a new lifestyle is very important. Don’t just think,but react immediately,then you catch new opportunities.

The crazy thing is, in this time, there were people who literally wasted their whole time playing computer games in quarantine and then, on the other side, there were also people who figured out how to work from home by using technology like Tencent Meeting etc., and used apps to work out from home and keep in good shape. Opportunities are always there for people who are more prepared. Your behaviour and your choices will decide who you are tomorrow.

Amanda Wang
B+A, Shanghai