contrast to the almost blanket coverage of COVID-19 in Australia with daily, seemingly endless, self-indulgent press conferences by premiers and occasionally
The August skies are clear and blue, reminiscent of the Olympics 13 years ago. Then, factories in Beijing and neighbouring Hebei Province were shut for weeks, and trucks and cars within the city were heavily restricted. Over the years, Beijing has made great progress in cleaning up the city and improving air quality. One of the factories shut during the time of the Olympics was the Capital Iron and Steel Works, Shou Gang. Today it produces culture, not steel, being a new arts precinct among Beijing’s many such districts. Over the past weekend, the village where I live was progressively shut down without notice or warning. It is also an arts district, just off the airport expressway and next to the fififth ring road, not far from the much more famous 798 Art Zone. The dissident artist Ai Weiwei's studio and home is just 200 metres down the road from my yard. Abandoned since he was chased out of Beijing to take up residence fifirst in Germany and now Portugal, it is desolate, but the knot of security cameras still stares at his front gate. Once, a bicycle was left outside the turquoise gates every day with its white basket full of fresh colourful flflowers as a sign of hope.
At the end of my street outside Ai Weiwei’s block, unannounced, a two-metre-high blue steel barricade appeared. This was highly inconvenient as the better local restaurants were just a short walk from home. It brought back the feeling I experienced as a 21-year-old in 1975 in East Berlin, looking at the wall slicing off roads and tram lines, rendering them useless at the whim of an authoritarian power.
Ai Weiwei at the NGV International.
By Sunday, the half dozen or so entrances and exits to the village were barricaded. Only one point of entry and one point of exit remain. On entering the village everyone must now have their temperature checked and check in with their QR code; hopefully it shows up green. A little bell then pings on your phone, even though, curiously, my phone is always on silent. It has caused great confusion for visitors because the Didi (China’s Uber) maps haven’t caught up with the new traffific conditions. Despite all this, the restaurants in the village are still busy. My lunch party of 10 ate and drank happily and returned home after lunch to spin vinyl disks dating from a much more carefree time.
The measures being taken to restrict movement and activities do not suggest that a Sydney-like outbreak is imminent, but they do create a sense of foreboding that Beijing and other parts of China could be on the cusp of something serious. Daily cases averaged 103 new infections over the past few weeks. China’s vaccination rates with the locally made vaccines are high. According to Oxford COVID-19 Response Tracker, 1.8 billion doses have been administered to date. If each dose went into an arm, that would be 64 per cent of the population vaccinated with two doses. At the current weekly rate of 17.3 million, 75 per cent will be vaccinated with two doses by August 27. Australian modelling suggests 70 per cent is suffificient for herd immunity. The Chinese government is likely to want to achieve even higher rates of immunity. All attention now will be focused on the 2022 Winter Olympics in February , which must be a success. Chinese observers were in Tokyo, of course, to study how to stage a global sporting event in the time of COVID-19bal
sporting event in the time of COVID-19.
Even in the Gobi Desert, the Party goes on
© 2018 Geoff Raby & Associates