Stars can’t shine without Zero-Covid darkness

Please send some love and recovery wishes to my 5 years-old daughter who broke her arm during Zero-Covid era in China this week. Here is her story, fasten your seatbelt!

First of all, let me set the context, I’m a French citizen living in the Greater Bay Area (GBA) in China since 2007. It’s the place I call home, the place where I met my wife, she is Chinese and we have two wonderful kids, Léa (5) and Louis (3). We moved last year from Shenzhen to Zhuhai.

The GBA is the kind of place that improves every year, it’s an incredible region often featured as the Chinese Silicon Valley. This is how I promoted it until Covid happened. Since then, China has set a strict Zero-Covid policy. It worked pretty well for the last two years so we could almost live a normal life inside the country while the borders are closed since March 2020. To enter into the country, people have to go through a strict 21-day quarantine at a dedicated hotel.

The “Dynamic Zero-Covid” policy mainly consists in testing and tracing people who turn positive so they can be isolated (not isolate themselves) to protect the rest of the population and avoid the virus to spread.

To control that, we have three apps that we use on a daily basis via WeChat mini programs:

1) Yue Sheng Shi 粤省事: a.k.a GHC for Green Health Code QR code, it shows your vaccination status and latest PCR testing time

2) Xing Cheng Ka 行程卡: that one is a big arrow either Green / Yellow / Red that shows all the places / cities you have been over the last 14 days.

3) Yue He Suan 粤核酸: QR code scanned at PCR testing facility, the result will then be pushed to the GHC app a few hours later (about 4 hours to Android and 6 hours to iOS)

Alright, back to our story, on Friday April 8th we went for a staycation weekend in Guangzhou, a 2-hour drive from Zhuhai, I planned to vote there on Sunday April 10th for the 1st round of the French Presidential Election.

Guangzhou is a pretty nice city in the GBA, we had a great time on Friday afternoon and went for dinner to a mall nearby the hotel.

On Saturday April 9th, right after breakfast, the receptionist asks us to make a PCR test, which we found a bit weird since we had a 48-hour valid test. Anyway, we had to do it…

We got tested in the same mall as the previous night but the whole building was closed to the public so that triggered a big warning. Right after the test, some part of the city of Guangzhou became a high-risk area and our Xing Cheng Ka app added a star * next to Guangzhou.

We decided to shorten our trip, I won’t vote but at least we would be safe back home because we were scared to be quarantined in Guangzhou if suddenly the hotel’s district became a high-risk area or worst became the new Shanghai.

On the way back home, the Government called my wife to ask where was my daughter. We got VERY scared, if she was positive that would mean we would all have to go to a quarantine facility for several weeks. Apparently, it was just a routine governmental check.

Back home, we immediatly went to do a test at our community testing facility, but because we had a star * on our Xing Cheng Ka app, we had to do it at another central facility, just 10 min further than our usual place.

When you have a * on that app, the normal procedure is to quarantine at home for 3 days and you basically can’t enter any places for 14 days, so the only time we were going out was to do these mandatory tests every two days.

On Wednesday April 20th, we are on Day 10 of idiocracy and we are going to the central testing facility when my daughter stumbled as she walked and fell on her elbow.

I immediately took her in my arm to make her feel better. She was crying but we thought it would be fine, a big hug and we were good to queue a few minutes for our test.

Ten minutes later we were back home at around 6:30pm and I told my wife that it’d be better to have a CT / X-Ray check as my daughter was still not feeling better so they went to the closest hospital, it was just a 10 min ride from home.

Once arrived there, the hospital staff asked my wife for her GHC but that one was still showing 48 hours even though we did the test an hour before, it was not tested yet and pushed to the cloud but she could show the test analysis was ongoing.

I was at home taking care of our son and I communicated with my girls through WeChat, sharing photos and having video calls every 30min. The hospital staff told her they could not do anything because we had a star.

My wife was very upset but we could at least make a X-ray to know wether our daughter’s arm was broken or not.

At around 8pm, we got the X-ray result, the left ulna bone of Léa’s arm was broken, a bad fracture…

We had to go for surgery but the doctor told her that even though we could show a 24-hour valid code, he could not operate our daughter because we visited Guangzhou 10 days earlier and therefore we had a star * on our app!

My wife called me, she was crying, I told her to calm down and go to another large hospital. I could not even come over, I could not use any local Uber or Taxi because I had a fucking * as well on my app!

She drove my daughter to a second hospital about 40min from the first one. Once arrived, she explained what happened and the staff told her to wait until her 24-hour code shows up on her app. It’s now about 11pm.

We were refreshing our apps every 5min and suddenly around midnight, my 24-hour code appears on my Android phone so I immediately send it to my wife. However, on her iPhone it still did not show anything, even worse our code turned 72-hour

She shared my code to the staff but they did not want to consider anything. At that time, she finally met the orthopedic doctor and he told her he could not do anything because she had a * on her app!

She went mad as you can imagine. You have a 5-year-old little with a broken arm for 7 hours and people are waiting for an app to show 24. WTF!!!

She did something I wouldn’t believe could work but she literally called the police. Two agents arrived and tried to convince the doctor. Even the cops on their own phones could not refresh this code app, she showed them we have been tested almost every three days for the last 4 months so not helping our little girl was pure bureaucracy madness.

Even the police men suggested the doctor to take care of her first rather than waiting for that f*#%@ing 24-hour code!

The doctor only accepted to make a provisional cast, so no treatment but at least the arm would not move much, my wife came back home at 3am, her code turned 24 at the same time… and my daughter slept.

The next morning, we dropped our son at school at 9am and went to a 3rd hospital downtown that accepted people coming from “high-risk areas”. We would meet the orthopedics at a special building, then they drove us there in a kind of a 8-seater golf electric vehicle.

We enter into a secured building, the full hazmat nurse told us to wait inside a 3-bed room. I wanted to walk around but a nurse told me there were people in Covid quarantine in the other rooms so we waited patiently inside our room.

It’s about noon now and the orthopedic doctors finally show up, we are grateful to finally meet the experts. That makes 18 hours my daughter has a broken arm, she is so brave and I run out of jokes to make her laugh.

They decide to try to set back the bones together. I won’t comment that decision, it’s obviously painful but that can avoid a surgery and an anesthesia. Chinese doctors are very good, the problem is that he is wearing 3 pairs of gloves and admits he can’t feel the bones very well :(

Crazy painful but Léa was so brave. The doctors set a splint, the odds are not in her favor that it worked fine but she immediately felt better after this first treatment.

The doctors told my wife the bill will directly be sent by WeChat mini program on her phone and so we can pay and go.

About 30min later, she got the message and paid, at the same time, a nurse came to our room to ask us to make a PCR test before leaving???

I could not understand the scientific logic behind that since we had a 24-hour valid negative test from last night. I refused the test and told her I wanted to leave. The full hazmat nurse (looks like a Star Wars stormtrooper) said she will notify first that I refused the test, I told her to do so.

She told us it was fine but we had to wait for the car to come back as it was the procedure, I found that a bit ridiculous to wait for this mini-golf car since it was just a short ride and we could walk back to the parking lot, anyway, my wife told me stay calm, it was just their process so she asked me to take it easy and wait.

After a few minutes, I started to become increasingly anxious since there was nothing relevant at all for us to stay there. Therefore after 30 minutes, I went out of the room to tell the nurse that I would leave now. She told me to calm down and wait for the car. The elevator could not operate without a badge so I went back to the room shouting bad words in French. I had that gut feeling something was wrong.

We called again the nurse and she told us the car would be there within 5min. After 15min, I went back to the nurse and asked her if this was a hospital or a jail. She told me if I left the facility, she would have to call the police. At that time, I’ve already found a badge on a nearby table and was calling the lift.

Another out-of-space moment happened when she was trying to calm me down, she started telling me that in the West, it would take 4 hours to get such treatment so I should be more grateful… Yes maybe 4 hours indeed and not 19 hours like my daughter had to go through here!!!

10min later, we could finally go out!

A full hazmat gentleman was escorting us towards the exit of the building and invited us to enter into… a freaking AMBULANCE! He kindly said in Chinese:

“Here is your car and it will bring you back home to finish your quarantine!”

Me: Are you fucking kidding me???

Now I am traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!

For 3 seconds, I was in awe in front of that ambulance and its hazmat occupants, then I started the most absurd dialogue with them:

- Me: We just came to fix the arm of our daughter, we don’t need a ride!

- Ambulance Driver: Don’t make things too difficult, you must finish your quarantine. We will bring you back home sir and it’s free of charge!

- Me: You won’t fucking bring us anywhere, I have my car in the parking lot just there!

- Ambulance Driver: Someone can bring your car back to you later

- Me: WTF!!!

I am pretty sure it’s the same feeling an innocent man go through when a judge sentenced him guilty in a murder case. I was already seeing in my the news headlines:

“Covid Kills! Mentally-ill Frenchman charged in attack with oxygen bottles on two ambulance drivers.”

After approximately 3min of pure madness, my wife got the orthopedic doctor on the phone to explain to the nurses and the ambulance drivers that it was a quiproquo, just a misunderstanding and that we could just leave the hospital.

The engine of the ambulance was purring in standby for the whole scene. Once they acknowledged the misunderstanding, we walked back toward our car as fast as we could. Trust me, it’s a very awkward situation to walk freely after such an insane moment.

We were relieved her little girl was feeling better with the splint set and at the same time we were left flabbergasted by the whole experience and the potential consequences of it.

This Friday, Guangzhou returned back to safe zone status, so the * disappeared from our app ahead of schedule but two days too late to avoid all this story!

If I did not fight against the test and the ambulance process, we would have been home quarantined for 7 days! And no one would have picked my son at school by fear of becoming a close contact of a close contact! Yes, that terminology exists in China.

This is just one crazy experience of what Zero-Covid madness can lead to. We are fine now and we are going to do another round of mandatory mass testing this afternoon. My wife received a formal apology message from the CDC.

Léa is healing at home before the next steps of her recovery.

Oh just one last thing, I won’t go to Guangzhou this Sunday to vote for the last round of the French Presidential Election. Peace out!

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Founder & CEO at Omate @OmateOfficial #IoT #Telecom #Wearable. Co-Founder at Oclean @OcleanOfficial #Healthcare.

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Laurent Le Pen

Founder & CEO at Omate @OmateOfficial #IoT #Telecom #Wearable. Co-Founder at Oclean @OcleanOfficial #Healthcare.