Old China Hands Lunch 5 June

Back again

Old China Hands Lunch 5 June marked our second lunch after the virus outbreak. Attendance was still pretty modest for several reasons: we were 17. All in all not too bad.
I have tried to have an idea about how many of our members are blocked abroad and unable to return “home”. Well, it is not a nice picture with close to 30 of our usual attendants unable to return; probably there are more, some did not yet reply to me. As I mentioned earlier, I expect many to give up on China for good, with their business, family life and social life wrecked. Chinese authorities couldn’t care less and there is no end in sight for the misery. China is losing many friends, that’s for sure. Really sad.

 

See the dishes I chose. The restaurant is now also well known for its collection of fresh flowers, done by Susan.

Next lunch

Tentatively planned for Friday 3 July.
All of Morel’s Restaurant staff has been tested for the virus and the restaurant is regularly checked by the hygiene department. As the restaurant observes all regulations strictly, they are one of the locations still allowed to operate.
I also must stress again to our members that the restaurant is giving us a very special deal and they should respect that. You are expected to pay for any extras. If you don’t like it, you go somewhere else.

Panic around the world

Contagion spreading

Panic around the world as several countries in East Europe, in the Middle East, along with Italy and others went into emergency mode with new cases of COVID-19. Reaction is at times chaotic, uncoordinated, and with hostility towards Asians and returning nationals. And closing borders.

On 24 February Coronavirus hammers financial markets

Will those countries be able to organize and implement the necessary measures as China did?
E.g. could Belgian hospitals cope with 5,000 sudden cases? How many hospital beds does Belgium have? And the whole system is plagued with stifling bureaucracy. Will people respect quarantine rules?
At least France is systematically preparing hospitals for the possible influx.
Let’s hope they can keep it under control…
Yes, pandemic is at the door. But let’s not forget that every year in Europe some 40,000 people die of the seasonal flu.

I you want to read a detailed insight on the pandemic, here is a good one:
“Is It a Pandemic Yet? It’s now clear that the coronavirus epidemic was never going to be contained. What’s next?” (NYT 24 February)
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/24/opinion/coronavirus-pandemic.html

Some excerpts:
Iran announced 43 cases and eight deaths. Some 152 cases (and at least three deaths) were confirmed in Italy on Sunday. The number of infected people in South Korea jumped to 763 (and six deaths) in just days.
As of Monday, Covid-19 was detected in at least 29 countries. In nations with few or no reported cases so far, particularly in South America and Africa, the absence of evidence shouldn’t be interpreted as evidence of absence. More likely, it reflects lack of testing.

China Economic Review on 23 February

As reported earlier, impact impact…
I also mentioned earlier the international supply chain is being affected and manufacturing around the world will suddenly be deprived of components made-in-China. As happened to a friend a few years ago, his factory stopped in Belgium because … special screws from China were not arriving.
Reason to worry as overseas factories scramble to find other suppliers, and might then stick to those.
It is thus to hope the Chinese industry can restart soon… The big challenge now.
See below some more news from CER…

Millions of Chinese firms face collapse if banks don’t act.
With much of China’s economy still idled as authorities try to contain an epidemic that has infected more than 75,000 people, millions of companies across the country are in a race against the clock to stay afloat, reported Bloomberg.
A survey of small- and medium-sized Chinese companies conducted this month showed that a third of respondents only had enough cash to cover fixed expenses for a month, with another third running out within two months. Without more financial support or a sudden rebound in China’s economy, some may have to shut for good.
“If China fails to contain the virus in the first quarter, I expect a vast number of small businesses would go under,” said Lv Changshun, an analyst at Beijing Zhonghe Yingtai Management Consultant Co.

China’s passenger car sales tumble 92% in first half of Feb. due to virus outbreak.
Retail sales of passenger cars in China crumbled 92% on an annual basis in the first 16 days of February, according to China Passenger Car Association (CPCA), as the coronavirus outbreak slammed the brakes on businesses across the country, reported Reuters.
 “Very few dealerships opened in the first weeks of February and they have had very little customer traffic,” it said.

The supply chain is badly hit

If you are still an optimist, read this:
“Coronavirus: China’s manufacturing supply chain pummelled from all sides in efforts to restart. Coronavirus costs keep mounting for manufacturers, who are facing huge losses in sales and struggling to ramp up production. Logistical logjams persist as transport networks struggle to find workers and navigate lockdowns across China.”
SCMP 20 February 2020
https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3051534/coronavirus-chinas-manufacturing-supply-chain-pummelled-all

The article details the problems I mentioned since long. One of the many “small” details:
There have been reports of cargo ships being marooned at sea, with ports in countries with strict coronavirus quarantine rules such as Australia, Singapore and the United States not permitting shipping personnel to enter their ports if they have been in China over the past 14 days.
Need I explain?

Eating out? Partying?

Incredibly enough some bar in Beijing was still holding a party with crowds inside, most without a mask. Saw the video. That was really stupid and irresponsible.
Those locations might have an unpleasant visit from the authorities with very unfortunate consequences.

See how one of my favorite restaurants does it according to the rules, Groovy Schiller’s. Also the limited opening hours of Kempinski Hotel (not sure about their seating rules…).
With those rules many restaurants prefer not to re-open.. too much trouble for too few customers… I wonder when and how Legend Beer may try a “soft” opening (later this week?). Morel’s Restaurant wisely keeps the door locked, while we all so miss the food. No Monthly Old China Hands Lunch in early March. Too early.

Our Rotaract meetings also cannot take place as usual but we had a ZOOM meeting on Monday evening…
We all hope we can soon go back to our Beijing life…

COVID-19 comes from?

Coronavirus did not originate in Wuhan seafood market, Chinese scientists say, as per SCMP on 23 February 2020.
Analysis of genomic data from 93 samples of the novel coronavirus suggests it was imported from elsewhere. The busy market then boosted its circulation and spread it to the whole city, research shows.
According to the study analysis suggested that the coronavirus was introduced from outside the market. The crowded market then boosted COVID-19 circulation and spread it to the whole city in early December 2019.
The research went on to say that based on the genome data it was possible that the virus began spreading from person to person in early December or even as early as late November.
A researcher at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV on Saturday that people infected were contagious two days before they showed any symptoms.
Chinese specialists still believe the virus comes from wild animals and the government has (finally) prohibited all trade of those.

French embassy notice

See here again: notice about the quarantine in Beijing from the French embassy.

Well done!

My concerns on COVID-19

Bleak outlook?

I am having my concerns on COVID-19 and the impact of the virus. I have company:

“Coronavirus is China’s fastest-spreading public health crisis, Xi Jinping says. Chinese President Xi Jinping told top government and military leaders that the coronavirus crisis was the country’s most serious public health crisis and urged them to work relentlessly to overcome it.” (SCMP)

I also share this view from NYT infectious diseases reporter, Donald G. McNeil Jr., who has covered pandemics for nearly two decades.

“It’s more deadly than flu, and it’s spreading like flu. Maybe not quite as fast, but these cases where hundreds of people all get infected in one church or aboard the Diamond Princess — that was scary. That was much faster than I expected.”

On 16 February 2020 SCMP published an article that merits comments, now a week later and still as worrying. Interesting reading to reflect on the situation.
I have warned already that despite all the optimism in China Daily and other official media, the economy in China – and the world – will be hit seriously. I already gave several examples in earlier posts. Yes China is resilient and has many strong tools to weather the storm. But it ain’t that simple.
The tourism sector is one of the many affected. Could the coronavirus crisis sink the cruise industry? The Diamond Princess went from a symbol of luxury to one of disaster when the coronavirus struck down hundreds of passengers. Its story raises questions about the future of a multibillion-dollar industry.
And so on. I won’t even try to be complete.

Real estate (leasing and sales) is at a virtual standstill (agencies closed and you can’t visit buildings). This personally affects me financially in a serious way.
Debtors systematically stop paying their debts, as I hear from all sides (and close friends). It is the start of a chain reaction. You don’t get the money you counted on, you also stop paying.

As I hear from many that the situation won’t be back to normal before June, that’s a real concern. Worse, landlords mostly refuse to lower the rent, virtually killing a lot of business. Government rents can be reduced but require tons of paperwork when office staff is often not at work and offices are closed.
As a result there is a serious exodus of foreigners. Won’t help business and the economy.

The SCMP article

“Forget SARS, the new coronavirus threatens a meltdown in China’s economy.”

  • SARS’ fatality rate may be higher than Covid-19’s, but economically speaking the new coronavirus is far more deadly;
  • This time around, a worst-case scenario of financial collapse, foreign exodus and large-scale bankruptcy cannot be ruled out.

Cary Huang SCMP
https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/3050629/forget-sars-new-coronavirus-threatens-meltdown-chinas-economy

Some key points from the article for your consideration. Heavily edited, read the original.

Given the rapid advance of medical science and globalization of recent decades, the scale, spread and economic costs of human epidemics are rocketing up, even if fatality rates are starting to fall.
Never before has China paid such an economic price for an epidemic as it has done already with the coronavirus. And the damage is spreading.
At this stage, it is obvious that the economic impact of Covid-19 will be far more severe than that of SARS, or any other previous epidemic, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the Chinese economy is four times as big as it was in 2003, so its losses and the impact on the global economy are likely to be correspondingly larger. A rough estimate is that Covid-19 will cause at least four times as big a loss as SARS.

Secondly, the timing is far worse. The outbreak took place just days before the Lunar New Year holiday, when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel domestically and internationally to attend family reunions and festive events. Government clampdowns on travel and the behavior of cautious consumers keen to avoid crowds and social gatherings mean a sharp drop in consumption. Hospitality, retail, air travel, transport, entertainment and tourism will be among the sectors hardest hit.

Thirdly, China’s rapid urbanization means Chinese are now much more likely to travel domestically and abroad than two decades ago. This also means that when they stop travelling, the disruption is greater. The country has 288 million migrant workers, who account for about a third of China’s labor force. Many who travelled to rural homes for the holidays will be either unable or unwilling to return to work in the cities.

Fourthly, the magnitude of the government’s response has been unlike anything ever seen before. Whole cities have been locked down, effectively grinding some local economies to a halt since Beijing declared all-out war on January 23. At the peak, provinces accounting for almost 69% of China’s GDP were closed for business, according to Bloomberg Economics. There were no such measures in 2003.

Fifthly, rising US-China trade
Frictions will magnify the economic impact of Covid-19 as the world’s two largest economies remain locked in tariff and technology wars even if they have signed an interim truce. The epidemic may well trigger an exodus of multinational companies, as many firms were already rethinking their presence in China due to the tensions with the US and rising costs.

Sixthly, for the millions of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in China, the nightmare may be just beginning. Many small manufacturers fear foreign customers will shift orders to other countries due to disruptions in production and delivery. In a survey of 995 SMEs by academics from Tsinghua and Peking universities, 85% said they would be unable to survive for more than three months under the current conditions. If the disruption goes on long enough, it could trigger a wave of bankruptcy among SMEs, which contribute more than 60% of China’s GDP, 70% of its patents and account for 80% of jobs nationwide.

Finally, the epidemic will weigh on banks in the form of non-performing loans, adding risk to the banking system and pressure to the country’s towering debt pile, which stood at more than 300% of annual GDP at the end of last year. The risk of default on the country’s 99.1 trillion yuan of outstanding onshore bonds is increasing. The disruption will weigh on the capacity of some companies and individuals to repay loans, pushing up delinquency rates. Financially weak SMEs could face additional funding pressure as they are exposed to refinancing risk.

Unfortunately, as its scale is bigger and spread is faster, this epidemic is likely to go on far longer than SARS did. Recovery will be slow as quarantine measures and consumer caution will continue long after the disease has hit its peak. This will cause a social and political fallout that will hit not just the economy but also the whole society.
Thus, the worst-case scenario cannot be ruled out. Massive financial collapse, an exodus of foreign companies and large-scale bankruptcies all loom on the horizon if this epidemic cannot be contained soon. In short, nothing less than a major economic meltdown.

How I survive being mostly locked up at home

And I am alone in my home office. Staff and clients can’t come. Wife in Brussels. Gym (obviously) closed.
Fortunately I can help myself well. I cook, clean and exercise at home. Occasionally I meet a very few friends.
My usual shops are open and I can find more or less what I need, some items being out of stock. I buy most in Jingkelong Sanlitun, close to my home. See my cooking, shopping, cleaning and entertainment.
So, see how I shop, cook, clean. And I am happy to finally watch my old movies in VHS and VCR. As a James Bond fan…
I also have optical fiber internet, and thousands of TV channels (too many HBO and other, addictive).

And exercise! The water bottle is near 5 kg.

But overall it is a rather depressing environment.

The new pandemic arrived

Many still doubt about it

The new pandemic arrived but many people still believe it won’t happen or think it’s much more serious than the flu we all know, that kills so many people but nobody talks about it.
See the latest, many other media talk about the outbreak and quarantines in Italy:

Reuters 22 February 2010:
Fears of a global coronavirus pandemic as cases of reported infections surge:
A rapid surge of new coronavirus cases outside of China, including in Iran, South Korea and Italy, has prompted concerns among infectious disease experts and scientists that the contagion could transform into a global pandemic. The virus had spread to at least 28 countries with more than 76,000 confirmed cases worldwide.

See also:
https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3051927/chinas-coronavirus-controls-are-starting-pay-dividends-elsewhere
China’s coronavirus controls are starting to pay dividends, but elsewhere in the world infections are rising fast
Number of confirmed cases reported in Wuhan on Saturday falls 55% from previous day, National Health Commission says
But surges in South Korea, Japan and Iran suggest the epidemic is becoming a pandemic, according to experts.

Yes, the USA also starts worrying
Some finally understand in the USA the virus is difficult to stop. See this:
“CDC is preparing for the ‘likely’ spread of coronavirus in the US, officials say”
USA Today 21 February
Health experts sounded the alarm Friday over the worldwide threat of the coronavirus, with officials warning of its “likely” community spread in the United States and the World Health Organization cautioning that “the window of opportunity is narrowing” for containing the outbreak worldwide.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters Friday that U.S. health officials are preparing for the coronavirus to become a pandemic.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/02/21/coronavirus-who-contain-outbreak-iran-deaths-south-korea-cases/4829278002/

The confusing threat of “big data” in China

There are a couple of systems being launched in China to label people as “dangerous” or “OK”. The systems seem to have many issues and the big question is how foreigners can deal with it as everything is in Chinese and some simply do not work.

See:
How big data is dividing the public in China’s coronavirus fight – green, yellow, red.
Cutting-edge technologies and old-fashioned surveillance are being used to decide who can and who can’t go back to work. There are some examples in Hangzhou area and in Yunnan.
But the smart technology is not always that intelligent.
Link that gives a good overview:
https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3051907/green-yellow-red-how-big-data-dividing-public-chinas-coronavirus

My experience

In Beijing it is not yet used but I was getting messages from 10086, see further. Despite all efforts and phone calls, it never worked. I guess someone of our office should go to China Mobile to clarify. But of course that is now as good as impossible.

Health QR codes in full effect in Hangzhou
CHINA DAILY on 18 February
People in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, have been required to prove that they have green health codes when going to public places or commuting via public transport vehicles, according to the city’s leading group for the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus pneumonia on Monday afternoon.
Hangzhou launched a health QR code system on Feb 11 to curb the virus spread amid the resumption of production. People who want to get into the city need to report their travel history and health conditions online in advance. In turn, they will be assigned codes marked by green, yellow or red based on the information they offer.
As of Sunday, the system had issued health codes to more than 6.5 million people.
Initially, the system was used to evaluate health conditions of those coming to the city. Now, it is expected to be applied nationwide this week, a further step in the prevention and control of the epidemic based on the health code system.
Verification QR codes have been posted at the entrances to residential communities, companies and other public places in Hangzhou such as restaurants.
People will get their own codes that they had previously applied for online after scanning the verification codes through Alipay.
Those who want to enter public spaces should have green codes and show them to watchmen, which means they are healthy enough to move around the city.
People taking public transport vehicles, such as taxis, buses and subways, are also required to show their green health codes. Those who don’t have smartphones, especially the elderly and children, can pass with valid paper documents.

10086: failing to register as a foreigner

See here the unsuccessful efforts I did, helped by a Chinese friend who contacted the services several times. We have no idea what are the “last four digits of the real-name certificate”. The mobiles are registered by our company. None of the numbers we tried worked.
As for the Hangzhou article and others: again, you need Alipay and all in Chinese.
Good luck.

工信部提醒:短信可以为您提供“行程证明”,用户可发送“cxmyd”到10086,授权查询您近15日和30日内到访的省市信息(驻留超4小时)。此为公益服务。
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology reminds you: SMS can provide you with a “Proof of Trip”, and users can send “cxmyd” to 10086 to authorize to query information about the provinces and cities you visited within the past 15 and 30 days (over 4 hours stay).  This is a public service.

【二次确认】尊敬的客户,您好!中国移动北京公司提示您:您即将使用“疫情防控行程查询”公益服务,该服务信息仅供参考,不作为最终判定依据,并默认是本手机号持有者本人授权查询,确认查询请在10分钟内回复本手机号对应实名证件后四位。【中国移动】
[Second confirmation] Dear customer, hello!  China Mobile Beijing Company reminds you that you are about to use the “Outbreak Prevention and Control Itinerary Enquiry” public service. The service information is for reference only and is not used as the final judgment basis.  Respond to the last four digits of the real-name certificate of this mobile phone number within 10 minutes.  【China Mobile】

尊敬的客户,您好!您提供的实名证件后四位与本号码实名认证信息不一致,无法提供服务。【中国移动】
Dear Customer: Hello!  The last four digits of the real-name certificate you provided are inconsistent with the real-name authentication information of this number and cannot provide services.  【China Mobile】

Mandatory 14 days quarantine

Foreigners also facing restrictions to enter Beijing

Over the weekend, panic among expats with the “rumors” of the mandatory 14 days quarantine for anybody returning to Beijing. And yes, also applies to foreigners returning from Europe. See what started the “rumor”:

Finally I got the official document (click to open): 200216 BJFA
That means 14 days quarantine for people coming in Beijing. If unluckily you have someone in your plane/train showing symptoms you are good to stay at a “designated public quarantined area” for observation instead of “home quarantine”, whatever that means.
As a result my wife is not coming and stays in Brussels.

Way to go…

That also means: there is no point for businesspeople to come here, they will be locked up in their hotel (who pays?). And Beijing residents returning home might reconsider.
Beijing, more and more isolated.

Evacuation of foreigners

More and more foreign countries have, are or will evacuate their citizens from Wuhan. In other cities, such as in Beijing, there is still a way to leave. Where one can go is another problem. A majority of airlines has cancelled all flights with China. Most Chinese airlines still operate but with reduced frequencies.
But many countries restrict access, see here the present list from IATA:
https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/international-travel-document-news/1580226297.htm

To Tame Coronavirus, Mao-Style Social Control Blankets China

See: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/15/business/china-coronavirus-lockdown.html
Extract from this rather chilling article:

Residential lockdowns of varying strictness — from checkpoints at building entrances to hard limits on going outdoors — now cover at least 760 million people in China, or more than half the country’s population, according to a New York Times analysis of government announcements in provinces and major cities.
Throughout China, neighborhoods and localities have issued their own rules about residents’ comings and goings, which means the total number of affected people may be even higher. Policies vary widely, leaving some places in a virtual freeze and others with few strictures.
China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has called for an all-out “people’s war” to tame the outbreak. But the restrictions have prevented workers from returning to factories and businesses, straining China’s giant economy. And with local officials exercising such direct authority over people’s movements, it is no surprise that some have taken enforcement to extremes.

The bureaucrats failed to listen to the president

As per SCMP and other media:
President Xi Jinping told the Communist Party’s top echelon to tackle an outbreak of a previously unknown coronavirus almost two weeks before Chinese authorities announced that there had been human-to-human transmission of the disease, according to an internal speech released on Saturday.
In the speech to the party’s most powerful body, the Politburo Standing Committee, Xi outlined a contingency plan to respond to a crisis that he said could not only hamper the health of people in China, but also jeopardize the country’s economic and social stability – even its open-door policy.
The speech was delivered on February 3 and published in the party’s bimonthly journal Qiushi on Saturday. It was also featured on state television and other official mouthpieces.

Postal services stopped

Bpost, Belgian Post, is stopping mail and packages to China s they claim “there are no flights available”. Not correct as Hainan Airlines still operates. Post from China is still OK…
Deutsche Post also informed it will not send packages to China.