City University of Macau and University of Saint Joseph (USJ) researchers have published a three-month ethnography study on how local residents coped with the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and the anxiety generated by the disruption it caused to local social rhythms and mobility.
The research – titled ‘Anxious immobilities: an ethnography of coping with contagion (Covid-19) in Macau‘ – was conducted by City University of Macau Faculty of International Tourism and Management Assistant Professor, Denis Zuev, and USJ Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Pro-Rector, Kevin Hannam.
The research article aimed to reflect on how the social experience of being in a lockdown can provide insights into understanding the type of experience or condition that we provisionally term ‘anxious immobility.’
‘Such a condition is characterized by a total disruption of everyday rhythms and specifically anxious waiting for the normalization of activity while being the subject of biosocial narratives of quarantine and socially responsible,’ the article indicates.
With the pandemic lockdown experience in the city starting in February, the report collected several social vignettes that showcase the disruption caused to resident’s lives and their coping mechanism.
The research documents, for example, how changes to home-working habits led to a disruption in resident’s sleeping habits and cycles.
‘Working from home became interspersed by the relaxations of cooking food and watching television but also a degree of laziness and a lack of motivation to work such that frequent naps during the day are taken. This made night-time sleep difficult and sometimes impossible,’ the article states.
The researched describes the example of a local taxi driver who sees his normal working rhythm is suspended ‘until further notice,’ as there is a lack of knowledge over what to do and when, and ends up sleeping in his car for three days and three nights on 24-hour work shifts just to assure he can pay for the gas and the daily car lease.
‘His livelihood, like many micro-entrepreneurial residents and migrant workers is not guaranteed. Despite the abundance of time and the means of production, his mobility is highly precarious,’ the report notes.
The article also reports how after the March 18 ban on the entry of non-residents the actual experience of lockdown in Macau became increasingly divided between the privileged permanent residents and stuck non-residents.
‘The blue cardholders preferred to stay locked down in Macau, in order not to lose their employment. The lock-down was accompanied by the experience of lay-offs similar to many other countries; however, the residents received consumption bonuses of around [MOP10,000] from the Macau government to spend on goods and services,’ the research adds.
‘Surprisingly, 80 per cent of the local population who had access to the financial subsidy via the consumer e-card scheme struggled to spend the full amount, with 5 per cent of the residents not even bothering to pick up the card loaded with money to spend’
The article also delves into the political reasons for Macau SAR authorities to impose such a quick lockdown, citing the city’s unusual population density and risks of rapid contagion.
‘The unusual density and the fact people living in highly packed megablocks could also potentially create further problems for the containment of the disease where one of the reasons why the Macau authorities preferred to play safe and keep the borders closed,’ the report notes.
‘The lock-down also allowed the Macau government to showcase itself as a professionally prepared and exemplary city-state politically committed to the wider Chinese national project of health surveillance in line with the perspective of ‘hygienic modernity’
The paper argues that the pandemic revealed a disjuncture between the governments of a Greater Bay Area project previously initiated as a project of political togetherness and de-bordering, due to this unprecedented move towards a reduction of mobility.
The researchers also conclude by arguing that further study is required over ‘long-term, durational, risk-related, and thus highly anxious immobility’ so as to better reveal the diverse cultural strategies of coping, dealing, and negotiating with anxious immobilities.