Last week, confined to my home in America, I glimpsed the future. Or more precisely, one of several possible post-pandemic futures.
Christopher Suzanne, an American who teaches English in Wuhan, China, took me on a tour of the city where the novel coronavirus originated, where the first lockdown was implemented, and where restrictions are now being eased as the outbreak ebbs.
On a video call, as he ran an errand around 11 p.m. on a weeknight, Suzanne showed me a largely lifeless street that would typically be bustling at that hour. He walked past dark, boarded-up storefronts; one lit-up restaurant with three empty bar stools assembled outside and some perceptible human activity inside; another restaurant with a table blocking its door and a menu planted on the sidewalk for customers wishing to place their to-go orders; a few people in masks milling about the entrance to a kebab joint.
This was not normal. “If you’re familiar with Spanish culture, they [have] the siesta during the daytime, and then they’ll come back out at night full force. That’s Wuhan culture, just without the siesta,” he explained, his voice muffled by an N95 mask.
When he caught a taxi to head home, Suzanne had to present the driver with documents detailing his health status, which were checked and photographed. When he arrived at the gated community where he lives, a masked police officer wearing gloves scanned his wrist to check his temperature before allowing him inside. Suzanne carried a card, a kind of pass to the outside world, that listed his temperature each time he left the compound. “It’s not just for taxis. It’s to leave your community. It’s to go into the hospital. It’s to go to even those small restaurants that I just showed you. If I wanted to buy something from that kebab place, I would have [had] to scan a code or show them my paperwork,” he said.