Sex workers are some of the hardest hit by COVID-19, but signs of China recovery should give us all hope during this difficult time.

As restrictions are being eased across China as the number of new infections recorded drops sharply, sex workers in Beijing and Shanghai are experiencing a welcome resurgence as clients come out of lockdown seeking companionship and relaxation.

Despite a government ban and frequent police crackdowns, sex work in China has continued to thrive behind the facade of hair salons and karaoke bars, for example.

In one such establishment in Shanghai, life almost feels normal again for sex workers. Bartenders mix cocktails for escorts and clients leaning against the bar, and sitting close together without face masks on, talking and sipping their drinks.

In massage rooms – in hair salons – business is also booming, with bookings up 300 per-cent on post-virus numbers.

“Right now we need relaxation and sex,” said Hong Jie, 29, who manages an adult-only spa, which reopened its doors last Thursday after more than a month of staying shuttered as Shanghai joined cities across China in various levels of lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak. “A lot of people seem very lonely because they all had to stay at home,” she said.

For many sex workers in China, life is slowly returning to normal, giving others a glimpse of what might await them once the worst of the pandemic has passed.

Elsewhere in Shanghai, people walk arm in arm past a reopened shopping district. Narrow pavements are crowded as residents browse food shops.

In Beijing, traffic has begun to return and more residents can be seen out on the streets, in parks and in shopping and restaurant districts.

Hong Jie said her team of six masseuses returned to the “salon” as soon as the lockdown was lifted.

“Now I feel like things are quickly recovering,” Hong Jie said. Now a lot of transportation has opened up,” she said. “Many customers have gone out for a massage. It’s much better than before. I think people just want to be happy and free again.”

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