Translation: China’s Stranded Truckers Feel Like “Highway Refugees” or “Animals in Captivity”

The latest wave of Omicron outbreaks and lockdowns in Shanghai, Changchun, Dongxing, Taiyuan, and other cities has resulted in food shortages and supply chain disruptions. The lockdowns and road closures have been particularly hard on China’s nearly 20 million long-distance truckers, some of whom have found themselves stranded, forced to live in their trucks, hampered by unpredictable testing requirements, or unable to complete timely deliveries of perishable cargo.

During the last few weeks, more and more cities and provinces have restricted highway travel to avoid becoming “another Shanghai.” A WeChat article dated April 13 and republished by CDT Chinese reports that over a dozen Chinese cities and provinces including Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shandong, Shanghai, Anhui, Hebei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Jilin, Guangdong, and Fujian have closed highways, toll booth entrances, exits, or service areas, impeding the movement of cargo from one province to another. In response, China’s State Council issued a notice today instructing provincial authorities to establish a priority pass system and set up special channels that would allow high-priority freight vehicles to travel across provincial boundaries and enter and leave pandemic-affected areas. 

CDT Chinese editors have also archived a now-censored WeChat article, written by Luo Chunhao and Yan Yucheng for 8 am Health Insight (@八点健闻 on Weibo), that details the travails of long-distance truck drivers Lin Sheng (a pseudonym), Ren Yi, and others as they attempt to transport their goods to market while navigating long delays, highway closures, frequent COVID tests, and health code apps that rate a driver’s risk on a one- to five-star scale based on their travel history. CDT has translated a portion of the article, below:

Lin Sheng is but a microcosm of China’s more than 20 million big rig truck drivers. By rights, they should be the lifeblood of the city, but they have now been transformed into “highway refugees”: trapped on highways for periods of more than ten days, running short of food and water, with wives and kids to support at home, and truck payments and mortgages that can’t wait.

Driven by economic pressures, they even risk breaking the law. In order to avoid quarantine, continue working, and hang on to their family’s last source of income, they unplug their satellite navigation systems and turn off their mobile phones to hide the number of stars on their itinerary apps.

[…] The highly contagious Omicron variant has taken the heaviest toll on long-distance truck drivers, these “highway nomads.” The heavy obstacles they now face have practically transformed them into “highway refugees.”

[…] “It’s too hard to do this work.” One video, shared in a truck drivers’ WeChat group, shows a driver stuck behind a long line of other trucks, unable to move. He first aims the camera lens at the doors and windows on either side of the cab of his truck. There are several long stickers affixed to the windows, sealing them shut. “They’re sealed with these strips, on both sides,” says the driver. “It doesn’t matter whether I eat or not, but the main thing is …”

The driver then picks up a large water bottle, shakes it, and trains the lens on a white [plastic] gasoline container resting on the passenger seat. Both containers are filled, nearly to capacity, with the driver’s excrement.

The entire video is only 20 seconds long. In the last few seconds, the driver curses bitterly and says, “I’ve never been so damn frustrated in my entire life.”

[…] In addition to the stars on the travel itinerary app, pandemic controls in various localities are becoming stricter. In Harbin, vehicles from other areas must be sealed in order to pass through the border checkpoint; in Binhai, Jiangsu province, drivers are instructed “not to exit the cab [of the truck]” and to “avoid all contact when loading and unloading cargo”; in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, drivers and passengers who have passed through any high-risk areas along the way are required to undergo “one nucleic acid test per day.”

One big-rig driver told 8 am Health Insight that since the Lunar New Year, he has undergone 20 rounds of nucleic acid testing, and the requirements vary from place to place, meaning a negative test result within the last 72 hours, or 48 ​​hours, or 24 hours, and the rules often change ….

[…] After spending seven days stuck waiting on the highway, Lin Sheng decided to go home and enter a “14+7 day” centralized quarantine. “I only made one long-haul trip this month,” he complained as he reported his itinerary to the county government.

Arriving at a highway tollbooth, Lin Sheng rolled down his window to hand his highway toll card to the tollbooth attendant, but the attendant shouted, “Don’t move! Roll up your window, and stay in the cab! Don’t get out!” A man in a white protective suit immediately raced over to affix a seal to his truck.

Recalling the scene, Lin Sheng said he felt like he’d “become an animal in captivity.” He found it a bit absurd, and a bit offensive. “Delivering cargo, I risk being infected all the time, only to be treated like this.” [Chinese]

On April 9, a video circulated on Weibo showed a big-rig truck driver being stopped by police and forced into quarantine after he exited a highway in Henan province, despite the fact that he never even stepped out of the cab of his truck. When the driver demanded to know why there weren’t any signs on the highway exit to warn drivers of this quarantine policy, the police officer responded gruffly, “If you exit the highway, you have to quarantine. That’s the rule.”

CDT Chinese editors have compiled netizen responses to the video, a number of which are translated below:

@赵先德: So if you exit the highway but don’t exit your vehicle, you have to quarantine? That police officer is something else. And that video is an object lesson in how a good scripture can be distorted by a bad priest.

[…] @老石FZ:What’s the medical basis for this policy? The assumption that all outsiders are virus-carriers?

[…] @付亮的竞争情报应用:Cutting off highway access will have a huge impact on the nation’s economy.

@刘昕RUC:Who wouldn’t get upset in this kind of situation? Show up here, and we’ll put you in quarantine. Try to turn around and leave, without even getting out of your vehicle, and we won’t let you go. What’s this place playing at? Do they get brownie points for every person they quarantine?

@滑雪的江鱼儿:Is this a money-making venture? They purposely don’t set up any barriers or warning signs, get people to walk into their trap, and then make them foot the bill for food and lodging in quarantine.

[…] @二念修罗:It’s against protocol for the quarantine hotel to be empty. Hey, someone’s got to live there.

@昭昭北海:Hilarious, and also textbook-style pandemic prevention and control.

@北京零下二七三点一五度:No signs on the highway, but the minute you get off the highway, you’re quarantined. Is this some kind of a trap?

[…] @快骑士公馆:问题点:Why don’t they put up a warning sign at the last exit when you get off the highway? Going past that last exit is like setting off on “the road of no return.” [Chinese]


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