China’s extreme zero-COVID policy and stringent lockdowns have caused suffering, especially among many medical and health professionals such as Yu Mingzhu (using an alias for safety) who is also the mother of two young children.
Yu is trained as a traditional Chinese medicine doctor and she works at a community health center in Shenyang City in northeastern Liaoning Province. There, she and her colleagues work long hours with few breaks while not being paid for any overtime work.
“Private companies usually pay employees overtime three times their regular salaries, that is working on holidays and weekends, but we don’t get any overtime payment,” Yu told the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times on Jan. 16.
“The only thing we get is some allowance for giving people COVID-19 jabs,” Yu said, adding that the management of the health center in Dadong District that she worked at did not treat staff humanely.
At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Yu was assigned to work at highway exits of the city to take temperatures.
“It was an open place. It was winter, so it was very cold,” said Yu, adding that she had to wear exothermic padding, which was of little help in the cold which can be below freezing in Shenyang with the average low temperature being minus 16 degrees Celsius in January.
The cold hit Yu hard in early 2020 when the pandemic took off. She did not dare to drink water during work hours, but the hardest thing for her was to find a private place to express milk for her newborn baby. Her workplace did not provide any privacy for mothers like her and she was clad in personal protective gear that was inconvenient to take off.
“All men and women were mixed up, and I had no place to bottle milk,” Yu said.
She signed off her day at 10 pm, by such time that her breasts were too engorged and painful as she could not express milk.
“I had to wean my baby when she was only eight months old,” Yu said.
Seven Days a Week
Yu has had to work seven days a week since May 2021. Her weekly job duties included her regular rosters at the community clinic, participating in Chinese Communist Party events organized by the neighborhood community, working at isolation hotels, and vaccination work on weekends.
Her mother has helped in taking care of her two children that are aged three and a half and two and a half years old but last year both her parents were ill and were not able to help.
Yu also fell ill last June. Her legs became swollen, and a doctor told her that she had a growth on her gall bladder which the doctor advised should be removed.
Yu was not able to go for an operation straight away because her manager didn’t allow her any sick leave, telling her “to solve your own problem by yourself.” She had to work overtime for more than three months until October when she had completed all her assignments in advance so to make time for the operation.
Yu stayed in the hospital for less than a week after the operation and went back to work upon being discharged. She said she was very weak—developed diarrhea and had digestion issues. She went to the toilet two to three times during the night due to loose bowels.
Her doctor prescribed her some rest.
But her manager told her: “If you are not healthy enough, why have you given birth to two children?”
The manager also said that her sick leave prescription was suspicious, and he needed to investigate the prescription’s authenticity. Yu said she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“This is the third time he has embarrassed me. In June, he sent me a message, calling me a deserter and threatening to hand me in for disciplinary punishment,” she said.
Yu had no idea why he did this; her guess was her asking for sick leave and taking her daughter once with her to the isolation hotel she was working—she could not find anyone to take care of the baby that day.
Yu said she knew it was dangerous for her baby, but she could not afford to send both of them to childcare facilities, which would cost her $503 per month. Her monthly salary was $472.
Wanting to Practice Traditional Medicine
Yu graduated from a university of traditional Chinese medicine, majoring in pulse reading, prescription of Chinese medicine, acupuncture, cupping therapy, etc. At the health center, she mostly gave lectures on Chinese medicine and later wrote essays on Chinese medicine for a leader since 2021.
But this wasn’t what Yu wanted.
Now that her contract with the community health center will expire this month, she has decided not to renew it.
Instead, she wants to truly practice what she was taught.
“I hope I can use traditional Chinese medicine to help people,” Yu said. “Traditional Chinese medicine is more affordable and not that complex,” she said.
According to Yu, several herbal medicines can cure a cold. When she was sick, she paid over $1,100 for the operation personally besides Medicare payments, which was more than her two months’ salary.
She wants to help ordinary people with what she has learned so that people can affordably see a doctor.
The Chinese edition of The Epoch Times has reached out to the neighborhood community and its health center for comment.
Gao Miao and Sophia Lam have contributed to the report.