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China COVID-19 shut-in tunes in to the world via radio

It is hard to breath while wearing a face mask for an extended period of time, but they are now required in all public spaces in Shanghai.

Although it's hard to breathe while wearing a face mask for an extended period of time, they're now required in all public spaces in Shanghai. Jennifer Pak/Marketplace

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The battle to contain the COVID-19 virus in China has kept most people at home since the end of January.

Life is slowly returning to streets in cities like Shanghai, but face masks are now required in nearly all public spaces, even though they are not recommended for the general public by the Centers for Disease Control or World Health Organization.

Since there is a shortage of masks, most people are still effectively forced to stay home. As Marketplace’s China correspondent, this includes me. My window to the world for a better part of a month has been through radio.

Here is what I’ve heard:

Question: Is it safe to get food delivery?

Answer: Yes.

McDonald’s delivery in Shanghai now includes a sign indicating that the cook, food packer and delivery worker do not have fevers, which is defined as a temperature equal to or higher than 99.1 F. (Jennifer Pak/Marketplace)

Cooking show host Ying Zi on Traffic Radio 105.7 FM said a lot of listeners worry that food delivery workers, who normally make life work in the city of 24 million, are potential carriers of the COVID-19 virus.

Zhang Xiaojia, who works with one of China’s biggest food delivery platform, Elema, went on the program to assure consumers it is safe to have food delivered.

“Our delivery guys disinfect their food boxes daily. They wear face masks and check for fever. Restaurant staff are also checked for fever before handling your food,” Zhang said.

Plus, there is no contact with customers. Most apartment complexes, shopping malls and office buildings block food delivery workers or couriers from entering. Parcels and food are left at the front entrances instead.

Q: Can my company fire me because I cannot go into work?

A: Not advisable.

Job security is another major topic on radio programs. Travel is restricted between many provinces. A lot of Communist neighborhood committees and workplaces also require anyone entering the city to undergo a mandatory self-quarantine for 14 days. These virus-prevention methods have resulted in a lot of people not being allowed back at work yet.

“During this critical period, companies cannot randomly fire employees,” You Minjian, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Communist government’s top advisory body, said on a radio chat show.

Q: Can workers have their wages cut?

A: Yes, but try other means first.

A survey of 995 small- and medium-sized businesses in early February by Tsinghua and Peking universities found that 85% of firms do not have enough cash flow to last beyond three months.

CPPCC’s You urged companies to find other ways first before opting to cut wages.

“They can shift work and rest days around. Or cut down work hours,” he said.

A Shanghai street usually choked with traffic is still far from normal six weeks after China nearly shut down business activity across the country. (Jennifer Pak/Marketplace)

China is still an important market to Americans

The figures for retail and consumption are not due until middle of this month, but with people staying home from their jobs, consumption is expected to be down for a while.

However, that has not stopped international artists like Katy Perry from sending messages of support to China that play every few minutes on the country’s top 40 music station Hit FM.
“Hi, everyone in China. This is Katy Perry. I just want to send a message to you to let you know that we are all with you during this time and to keep fighting, stay healthy and positive as best as you can. We’re thinking of you. We are sending our prayers. We’re going to get through this.”

Perry got in trouble with Chinese officials after she donned a Taiwanese flag during a performance in 2015, which was construed as support for Taiwanese independence. Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province.

Since then, Perry has had trouble getting permission to perform in mainland China. However, her songs along with other international artists are widely available on China’s music streaming platforms.

Q: Should a person spray alcohol around the house to disinfect the air?

A: No.

Most Chinese homes use natural gas stoves. An expert on Traffic Radio 105.7 FM said spraying the house with an alcohol-based disinfectant might start a fire when people cook. He admitted the likelihood of this scenario is low. Given, however, that people are being asked to disinfect constantly, he advised listeners to err on the side of caution.

Q: Will drinking alcohol prevent me from catching the virus?

A: Nope.

This question is addressed on a regular basis on several radio programs. The COVID-19 virus is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that is a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses. There is no known cure. Most people develop mild symptoms, while some can develop pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Chinese experts said while alcohol-based solutions are recommended as a disinfectant for the household and office, it does not work the same for the body, as WHO addresses here.

Q: How many basic supplies should people stock up on?

A: Thirty percent more than normal.

According to a psychologist in a public service announcement on Traffic Radio 105.7, hoarding more than 30% of supplies will lead to more panic.

Wall-to-wall COVID-19

There is no escaping the topic of the virus outbreak, whether the shows are supposed to be about music, traffic or home renovations.

Marketplace’s Shanghai bureau news assistant Charles Zhang is sporting a shaggy look since hair salons have been closed for nearly a month. (Charles Zhang/Marketplace)

Here is a chat between show hosts Chen Yi and Jia Nan on Great Sports Radio:

Chen Yi: One of our topics today is what type of hairstyles do you prefer … but not many listeners have responded.

Jia Nan: Because it’s not the right time. I haven’t cut my hair since the Lunar New Year.

Chen Yi: Yeah, me too. I don’t even know where I can get my hair cut.

Last week, Shanghai announced that 135 salons have resumed operations, but service is limited. No perms and hair coloring are allowed, only haircuts.

Even then, a Xinhua poster advises residents to not speak directly to the hairdresser.

The poster reads: “Try to avoid conversing with the hair salon boss, Tony. Instead, type out messages to him on your cellphone.” (Xinhua news agency)

A strong immune system is the best defense against the COVID-19 virus

Periodically, listeners get a reminder to keep their immune systems strong and stay fit with the ninth edition of the People’s Radio Calisthenics.

Additional research by Charles Zhang.

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