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This is a story about Beijing and Washington, the two capital cities of the two most powerful countries in the world. Actually, it’s also a tale of two countries.

First, some Background:

Almost 40 years ago we had the good fortune to meet Qin Xiaoli. It was 1982, she was finishing a graduate year at Stanford, and under the sponsorship of the US-China Peoples Friendship Association she was visiting several parts of the US before returning to Beijing where she was a journalist.

We hosted her for five days, while she attended various seminars and meetings in Washington, and we became friends. Over the next four decades we continued our friendship, visiting her and her family in Beijing sometime in the early 1980s and hosting her husband, Qian Jiang (several years later), when he came to Johns Hopkins as a Visiting Scholar. (He too was a journalist and an historian).

Xiaoli came to our elder daughter’s wedding here in Washington, some 25 years after she first met Annie as a three-year old. Then, when their son was married here in DC, we ‘stood in’ for his parents at the ceremony, and two years ago we traveled throughout China with Xiaoli and Jiang for almost three weeks. Most recently, Xiaoli and Jiang came to DC to visit and stay with their son Kun and daughter-in-law Xi, but primarily to get to know their first grandchild. Now they have been here five months as it has not been possible for them to return to Beijing.

The Tale: Yesterday, when they ‘strollered’ young Dun Dun (Alex) over to see us – they were masked and socially distanced themselves – Xiaoli told us the following stories:

Two weeks ago her sister in Beijing received a phone call from the authorities saying she needed to appear for a COVID-19 test because of a new outbreak of the virus in the largest outdoor wholesale food market in the city. Her sister said she had not been there. She was ‘reminded’ she had been at a ‘nearby’ flower market and was told to appear the next day for a test. Apparently, “Big Data’ (Big Brother?) had identified her whereabouts from her cell phone. Taken to a hospital, she was tested, found negative but had to isolate herself for fourteen days. Today she can emerge from that isolation.

(Note: “Before the new cluster, however, Beijing – population 21.4 million – had only recorded 420 local infections and 9 deaths compared to over 80,000 confirmed cases and 4,634 deaths nationwide, thanks to its strict travel restrictions imposed at the start of the pandemic,” according to this CNN article – China’s New Cornovirus Outbreak.)

Xioali also told us that here in Washington where she and Jiang are staying in a West End apartment building with their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild, there have been three cases of COVID-19 in that building. When her daughter-in-law asked the management of the building for more information about the ‘outbreak’ (which elevators had been used, what floors the three positive cases were, and in what part of the large apartment building they lived), she was told no information could be given out. They received no instructions on how to protect themselves and their family from contagion. Xiaoli and her family here (three generations living together) rarely leave their apartment and are trying to protect themselves as best they can.

(According to the most recent statistics, Washington, DC, has a population of 705,749 and has had 10,327 positive tests of its population and 551 deaths).

Two different responses to handling COVID-19 issues. Each raises questions.

What do you think?