As global efforts to ramp up vaccination programmes around the world continue, China has been steadily making progress.  Over 100-million vaccine doses have been administered across the Asian country by the end of March this year.

Former KwaZulu-Natal journalist Zanele Buthelezi who now lives in Beijing, China, received her jab recently. She spoke to SABC News reporter, Genevieve Lanka, about the strides the country has made in nearly eradicating its local coronavirus transmissions.

Wuhan marks a year since hard lockdown

In January 2020, when news that there was an outbreak of a novel virus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan dominated headlines, Zanele was on holiday in Durban.

“And it was on the news and seeing all the major mainstream media houses reporting on this virus that has been raging in China, I left scared like because I still had to go back to China at that time. Getting to my apartment I had to take like a 40-day quarantine period and being in the house, but then I ran out of food. So I had a lot of anxiety at the beginning of COVID-19 here in China.”

At the start of the pandemic in the country, China responded with a strong arm. On April 8th, 2020 – the City of Wuhan in central China emerged from what has been dubbed the most extensive and toughest set of lockdown regulations in history. A year later, Zanele says the city is thriving.

“And now the reports that we are getting from that City is that it’s a vibrant city, people have come back, the tourists have come back, businesses have reopened.”

China started its vaccination programme in December 2020. By the end of March this year, it had administered over a hundred million vaccine doses. The country has set up over 74 000 vaccination sites in 15 regions.

Zanele is among the millions of residents who have received the COVID-19 vaccination. She, together with a group of foreign nationals, were allowed to vaccinate in Beijing this week. Zanele says the process was simple and efficient.

“It started with just confirming your information, checking your social security card, where they took down all your details. Then we had to sign the consent form which informs you of the risks and it tells you that the vaccine that you are about to receive, the case we were about to receive and in this case we were getting the sinovac vaccine, which is developed here in China. All of the vaccines that are being administered are being developed here in China. And so when we went through that process of signing the consent form, they inform you that the vaccine was not 100 per cent effective and they also check if you have any allergies, or you know, have any pre-existing conditions and so on before you are able to proceed through the next station where you are given the vaccine or the shot in your arm.”

China is using two types of vaccines in its rollout programme – sinovac and sinopharm. Both have been developed in China.

Debates around the safety and efficacy of vaccines have not evaded Zanele, however, she says there is a different kind of anxiety involved when you face the jab.

“I was a little bit anxious. I am not a fan of needles. I do brave it out – you know – when I have to. Ya, I didn’t even feel the injection going in. I looked away but I didn’t even feel it because it was so small, it was quick. Not a lot of bleeding and I didn’t feel any pain I must say when the doctor or when the health care worker administered the vaccine in my arm.”

Zanele says observation is an important part of the process, and health care workers are on hand to monitor any possible side effects.

“After getting the shot, we had to go to an observation area across from where you get your shot. You go and sit for about thirty minutes, where they are just observing you and monitoring whether you are having any adverse reactions to the vaccine or not. Most of the people there were sit sitting and there weren’t any reactions to the vaccine from my observation as I was sitting for that thirty minutes that I had to wait. There were a lot of I guess volunteers, medical doctors around so we were being monitored I guess, properly. People were answering your questions when you had questions.”

Before leaving the massive vaccination camp, Zanele was given a strict set of protocols.

“They just said avoid alcohol, don’t consume any alcohol, which is easy for me because I don’t drink alcohol. Also, don’t eat spicy food and seafood. Not to take a shower for the next 24hours. That was a bit ‘er’ for me because it’s something that won’t kill me if I don’t take a shower for like 24hours because it was early in the morning which is why I was like ‘oh my God’. I just had to brave it out with the sweat and everything, because people were a little sweaty.”

Fighting COVID-19

China has made significant strides in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic within its borders. By April 9th, only 14 cases were reported – all of which from international travellers. Zanele says this success is attributed to both the government’s swift and hard response, and the compliance of its citizenry.

“I would say the strong approach from the government – even though you know from the outside world, from us coming from places outside China – we may have looked at those measures as being you know, cruel or very harsh. But it shows that the intention was that to control the pandemic and make sure that it does not spread too far out of that particular area. But also another thing that worked was the compliance that the Chinese people showed at that time. They were willing to listen to what the government was saying and they stayed in their homes.” -Reporting by Genevieve Lanka