The strict community-grid management model that China has implemented to control population mobility and screen suspected COVID-19 cases turned out to be an effective firewall against the spread of the virus, which means grass-roots community workers have to work around the clock to detect those who need to be quarantined or hospitalized, check temperatures, answer questions and concerns, as well as deliver living essentials to affected residents the community oversees.
Diao Xu is a social worker in Zhaoshang Subdistrict of Nanshan District and director of the Nanshan International Cultural Exchange and Service Center (NSIC) run by the Zhaoshang Subdistrict Office. He told the Shenzhen Daily that since Jan. 24, Chinese New Year’s Eve, he and his team of over 10 workers had been answering questions and concerns from expats regarding the COVID-19 situation.
“We received an avalanche of 200 emails and calls from 600 or so expats asking about the situation, which was very overwhelming at first and made us even more busy than we already were on normal days, since expats are put at a disadvantage in terms of information access in emergencies like this.”
Zhaoshang Subdistrict is home to over 6,500 residents from 45 countries, and six of the city’s eight international schools are located there.
To keep up, Diao and his colleagues had to work till midnight in order to sort out information, updates and guidance regarding the prevention of COVID-19 and compile the resources into English-language booklets.
Luckily, a group of expats in his community have stepped up to volunteer, giving them a break from the repetitive work of checking temperatures and handing out manuals, as they are entrusted with a new mission: Pick up returning expatriate residents from airports and ports, and then arrange them to have self-quarantine at home as the city reported the second imported case Friday.
Diao also expressed his gratitude for the contributions made by expat volunteers. “Although their jobs may seem easy, their engagement greatly reduced our workload,” he said.
American Gannet Wystix, a newcomer to Shenzhen, thinks highly of the services Zhaoshang Subdistrict has been offering.
“Community stations sprang up all over and the civilized people of this community and country worked together just as natural as a bird flying for the first time. When the epidemic first emerged, the city registration started right away, which most likely saved a lot of lives and made it safe for me to volunteer,” Wystix said, adding that he hoped the workers would get some financial boost and more time off to relax.
The 48-year-old is a volunteer medic and a certified CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) worker in the U.S.
This time his job is to check temperatures, hand out manuals and guide his fellow residents to register and scan the QR codes. (Continued on P2)
“I wish I could do more, and I believe only through collective effort can we end this epidemic,” he said.
Wystix’s feelings are echoed by Bruno Schuyten, a Belgian who have been living in the sub district for eight years. “I feel more safe having to face it here than I would back in Europe (especially if I were a foreigner in Europe), the community service centershave been working round the clock to answer every foreigner’s questions and fears with official information as fast as they can, which I’m very grateful for. This is why I wanted to volunteer and help them,” Schuyten told the Shenzhen Daily.
To ease the stress and care for people’s mental well-being during this difficult time, NSIC also organized a series of online psychological counseling sessions to help those in need.
Schuyten is among those who are invited to organize daily free online activities as a means to support mental health of the community. “We’ve seen how fast and effective Chinese government has been to handle the situation, we are also proud to have the opportunity to serve our community, which is there for us when everything is normal and safe,” Schuyten.
Yang Ye-jee, a 26-year-old woman who has called Shenzhen home for 20 years, lives in Bao’an District. Yang is a freelance Chinese and Korean translator. However, Yang is losing clients due to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. So she decided to sign up as a volunteer when she saw the opportunity in Zhaoshang Subdistrict, serving as a translator and a coordinator between the community and South Korean expats.
Although Yang has to take the metro to volunteer, she feels safe and content. “The community is offering the protective gear we need, and the workers are like brothers and sisters who care about me,” she told the Shenzhen Daily.