December 31, 2019. I remember that day well.
I was eagerly looking forward to an evening with my girlfriend to ring in the new year.
Meanwhile, about 600 kilometers to the west, in Wuhan in Hubei province, a number of people were admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia.
Nothing unusual about that, right?
The coronavirus hits China hard
While it’s quite common to get the flu during winter, this wasn’t just any old flu.
The cause of this pneumonia was a strain of coronavirus that hadn’t been seen before.
In just 25 days, the coronavirus had spread to dozens of cities throughout China, with thousands of confirmed and suspected cases.
And, sadly, over 40 people were confirmed dead.
While I’m one of the lucky ones and haven’t been infected by coronavirus, it’s still had an impact on my life.
Here are eight ways the coronavirus outbreak has affected my life in China.
1. Face masks
People wearing face masks in the street is quite a common aspect of life here.
Pollution in China is a well-known problem and it’s only natural for the locals to want to protect themselves.
In the six years that I’ve lived in China, I’ve never worn a face mask – until now, that is.
As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, I’ve started wearing a face mask whenever I go out.
However, due to the coronavirus, there has also been a great increase in the demand for face masks. It’s now getting increasingly difficult to find any in stock.
I’m going to really look after mine!
The other day when I went to the pharmacy in the Auchan Shopping Mall in Zhenjiang (where I live), I noticed that half of the shelves were empty.
If I were to have any ailments in the near future, I might have a problem getting access to medicine.
This is pretty worrying. I’m considering buying some essential items online and having them sent to me.
3. School holidays have been extended
The second semester at Chinese universities was due to start on February 10.
However, due to the coronavirus outbreak, my university is not going to re-open until February 24. There are other schools in China that’ll be closed until March.
This means students will miss out on some valuable lesson time.
For me, the extended vacation period is likely to make me lonely.
I’ll have to try to find something to do with my time, which will be challenging given the travel restrictions due to the outbreak.
4. Increased security at school and university campuses
Most school gates in China are manned by security personnel. However, pedestrians are usually allowed to enter and exit the campus unchallenged.
Foreign teachers at my university are now having to show their school ID card to security personnel as well as signing in and out whenever we enter or leave our apartment buildings.
Teachers who are currently abroad and students who have gone back home (for the winter break) have been prohibited from returning to the university until the situation improves.
5. Public transport
Trains in China are normally quite full, especially during the Spring Festival period.
However, I recently went on a trip to Hangzhou and on my return journey to Zhenjiang, the train carriage that I was in was completely empty.
These are cities that are hundreds of kilometers away from Wuhan and ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak.
There are restrictions on other modes of transport too.
For instance, one of the places that I visited during the winter break was Harbin. On the day that I was due to fly there, the airport bus from Zhenjiang to Nanjing wasn’t running.
Some of my colleagues who have gone home for their winter vacations have expressed concerns that they may not be able to return to China due to a lack of flights.
6. Health screening at airports
Security has been greatly tightened at all airports.
Security personnel in protective clothing ‘shoot’ every passenger with a temperature gun. If you have a fever, you’re barred from travelling.
When I entered the airport in Harbin to fly back to Zhenjiang, I was told that my body temperature was too low.
I had to wait a few minutes indoors for my body temperature to return to normal before being allowed inside the departure lounge.
7. Closed attractions
One of the attractions that I’d been hoping to see in Harbin was the Siberian Tiger Park.
However, my tour guide informed me that it wouldn’t be possible for me to visit the park because it was closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
I was actually very lucky though.
On the day I flew back to Zhenjiang, my tour guide told me that every single attraction (that I got to see) in Harbin was now closed.
If I’d gone there just one day later, I’d have had a very expensive, wasted journey.
8. Increased loneliness
For foreign teachers and other expats, the holiday season in China is usually a time to travel and explore this breathtaking country.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, however, foreign teachers have been advised to stay in their apartments and to avoid going out as much as possible.
Since we also don’t have any classes during the holidays, foreigners may find life in China lonelier.
How has the coronavirus affected local Chinese people?
I’ve given you an insight on how the coronavirus has affected my life in China, but what about the impact on local people?
My former Mandarin teacher from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, describes her life in China now as ‘boring’.
In Wuhan, residents are forbidden to leave their homes. One of my teacher’s concerns is that her food will soon run out.
My Chinese girlfriend, currently in Guizhou (southwest China) with her family, has had the same experience.
When I asked her how she spends her days, her reply was “eating and sleeping, sleeping and eating, can’t go out”.
The locals are also dealing with ‘fake news’ circulating on social media.
China’s internet watchdog has closed down some WeChat groups and detained people who are accused of distributing false information.
Advice given by my employer about coronavirus
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, my university issued some advice to teachers.
Most of it is common sense and can be summarized as follows:
- Pay close attention to personal hygiene
- Wear a face mask at all times while outdoors
- Avoid all social contact unless absolutely necessary
- Seek immediate medical attention if you develop any possible coronavirus symptoms.
The lessons that China learnt dealing with SARS in 2003 has made the country well-equipped to deal with the current crisis.
I’m taking the precautions outlined above and I know that I’ll be OK. Stay safe!
How has the coronavirus affected your life in China? Share your story below.
Next, read my blog about how I overcame the language barrier in China.