SA man in China financially affected by lockdown

By Mervyn Naidoo Time of article published Mar 15, 2020

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DURBAN:A well-known Durban sports journalist, who has been living in China for the past 15 months, has managed to stay healthy and coronavirus-free, but the pandemic has stung him in other ways.

Andre Bloem, East Coast Radio’s former sports head, who relocated to China as an English teacher in 2018, was unable to complete the paperwork for his latest teaching contract because the virus caused the shutdown of some Chinese government departments.

And he was due to visit Durban this month to be with his three schoolgoing children, but that won’t happen because of China’s lockdown on travel.

Besides, with Bloem being out of work for nearly two months, he has not earned an income in that time, which has caused him to dip into financial reserves meant for his Durban trip.

“On a personal level, the virus has hit me hard. I was between contracts when it broke.

“Government documents had to be signed and with departments being closed, contracts can’t kick in. I have not earned a penny in nearly two months.”

Bloem said one thing he learnt in life was that when things were beyond your control, “smile and hope for the best”.

The virus first surfaced in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province in December. It was reported, this week, that more than 116000 people have been infected with coronavirus globally and the death toll topped 4000. With China accounting for more than 3000 of those deaths, Bloem said he was fortunate that only one person contracted coronavirus in the port city of Qingdao, where he lives with his girlfriend Joanna.

He lauded the Chinese government’s management of the virus since the outbreak.

“You have to wear a mask every day, wherever you go.”

Bloem said each time he entered the gated complex that he lived in, he was subjected to a virus test, even when he visited a police station about documentation, he was checked.

Joanna and Bloem were supposed to visit her family in another province in January, but they would have been stuck there because of the current lockdown on travel policy.

“People have acted in solidarity and shown great respect for the rule of law.”

Bloem said he doesn’t have firsthand knowledge of how other public health problems like Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) were handled elsewhere, but he’s noticed a national mobilisation in China over the coronavirus.

“It is a matter of national pride.”

About a Wuhan hospital being built in 10 days, Bloem said: “It wouldn’t surprise me because there is such a strong sense of camaraderie here.”

Many of businesses have closed for extended periods and schools for nearly two months.

Bloem said the people he sympathised with the most were restaurant owners.

“Joanna and I prefer to eat out often, but in my area, restaurants are shut. Chefs, waiters, and owners are all feeling it.

“I’ve heard that the government is trying to establish a fund to assist affected businesses.”

He noticed daily activities have dwindled in his city.

“People are ordering more food online, washing items and cooking at home. The streets are quieter, and fewer people are jogging. I like to walk my dog to the park, but parks and beaches are also closed.”

After 26 years of journalism in South Africa, Bloem was retrenched in 2018.

“I was one among many senior journalists out of work at the time. China offered a chance, which I took reluctantly.

“For the first six months, I was hoping to get something back home. When nothing came, I decided to embrace China.”

Being away from his children was his biggest drawback.

However, apart from the air pollution, which is being worked on, missing Durban’s weather, his challenges with the Mandarin language and scarcity of men’s roll-on deodorant, Bloem said China has treated him well.

He hopes to be back at work soon.


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