Our building’s WeChat group

Tuesday the 12th of April, day 12 of our lockdown. We receive self-tests and need to share the photos in the WeChat group of the building. There are 5 floors, about 4 households on each, so about 60 people live here — 39 of which are in the group. We’ve already been photographing our self-test kit like this every two or three days (alternated by PCR-tests downstairs), but this one is different. Room 303 posts a photo of three kits, two only showing C’s, one showing a T as well. I can almost hear her stumbling voice from the words she has typed down: “One is positive.”

The head of our building tells her to stay calm and quarantine in a separate room, away from her husband and child. The senior in 402 tells her to have some green tea, the lady in 102 refers to the Chinese medicine we received earlier. The senior in room 305 says that you can have a positive self-test if you have a cold. Meanwhile, 303 writes that she’s so sorry to the whole building, how she’s bringing trouble upon us all. All the neighbors are warm and say “no worries, we’re in this together”. Room 305 asks if anyone has some cigarettes to spare.

I had some hopes that it’d be a false positive test, but 303 later adds she had a painful throat already, but thought it was an allergic reaction. My hopes of coming out of this lockdown soon are also erased. Our compound has been a mess, with positive cases in the buildings all around us, but two weeks into the lockdown, at least our building was kept clean. Now at least another 14 days are added to our house arrest. At the start of this whole lockdown, I said I’d trim my beard once we’d get out of this, now I’m starting to think when that day comes I’ll be looking like that guy from ZZ Top.

On the evening of that same Tuesday, groceries from our group purchase arrive and the head of our building pushes everyone’s intercom at the ground floor. If the ringing noise does not startle you, her voice will. She’s yelling at everyone to pick up the groceries, except for room 303 who’ll have it brought to their door. I answer the intercom, and also write in the group chat: “Put it inside for 401 please, I’ll pick it up later”, for I do not want to be crammed with possibly infected neighbors on the narrow stairs, coming down with their garbage bags or up with their boxes of groceries. But she doesn’t hear it, and keeps pushing our intercom to pick it up. We don’t, only an hour later we descent when the stairs are empty. But we bicker about it in the group chat long after. Some neighbors can understand our point.

My mood is terrible the whole day. I hear the guards shouting at other buildings through megaphones: “Your building has a positive case, you cannot go out! You need to stop leaving your building. Understand!?”

Stress is high. Maybe something which is hard to understand mutually is that while covid rules abroad are relaxed, the vast majority of people in China haven’t encountered covid at all, never were at risk of being infected and don’t know anyone who has been infected. Many are afraid of the disease, but equally afraid to be sent to a quarantine camp. To be forced to leave your home is such an extreme measure, to have no privacy, no showers and no quality of sleep and festival-style toilets for two weeks.

On Wednesday afternoon, the 13th day of our lockdown, our building needs to do a PCR test — outside in the pouring rain. Everybody needs to go downstairs except for room 303 and room 504. Why room 504? It turns out that 32 hours ago, room 504 did not post the photo of their self-test in the group — nobody noticed their absence — but 504 send it to the head of the building personally. One of room 504’s tests was positive, and they decided not to inform us, and neither did the head of our building. Like 303, they will have the tests taken at their door.

Our building has been holding it together very nicely, no blaming but comforting instead for room 303. But now resentment grows over holding back the information about the positive test and I can put to use the word 知情权 which I learned the other day: The right to know.

Later that day, the mother in 303 is picked up, and she sends a sad photo of the bus parked at the entrance of our compound. 504 is still at home, because the positive case is a child and no parent-kid place is available so they can quarantine at home — for now at least. Room 305 shares his tip that if you drink boiled garlic water that the risk of infection is almost zero.

It’s Friday the 15th of April, today brings another round of self-tests. Everybody shares photos in the group, also 504. The child suddenly tests negative, and the father writes: “He’s now negative”. But is that possible? Yes, but unlikely. Did one of the parents cheat and do a test twice? Maybe that’s the reasonable thing to do to protect your child. Still, the kid’s PCR test from Wednesday was positive. Some people in the group congratulate room 504 for the negative self-test, others doubt it (怎么可能?), possibly because room 504’s positive self-test on Tuesday was hidden from them.

It’s unclear what’s going to happen, but what is clear is this: We first thought our district was safe, before we had to adjust that expectation to our compound. Then later we had to scale that down again. Many in the compound disregarded rules, elders from buildings with positive cases going to other buildings to exchange a chat or a smoke, not wearing face masks. We saw it from our windows, and in our building’s WeChat group we stood together and said things like “We can only take care of ourselves”. Now is the first time that this trust is being put to the test, and it turns out that trust beyond the doorstep of one’s household does not run very deep at all.