Life in lockdown: Cardiff University student speaks out about coronavirus

A city on lockdown: Alex currently lives in Qingdao, a coastal city not too far from Hubei province. Source: Miyawaki kyoto (via Wikimedia Commons)

By Mustakim Hasnath

As of last week, the death toll of the Wuhan Coronavirus rose above 2,000 worldwide. There are reportedly over 75,000 people infected with the virus, and the number of affected countries has reached 30. However, the vast majority of cases remain within China, where the Chinese Government has been enforcing lockdown in some areas afflicted by the disease. Recently, Alex, a Cardiff University student, who is currently living in China reached out to Gair Rhydd to tell his story of what it’s like living in China at the moment.

Gair Rhydd interviewed Alex, a Cardiff University student who is currently on his year abroad in China. Alex currently works as an Au Pair, working across Beijing and Qingdao. After arriving in China at the start of January, Alex has stayed with host families whilst teaching English. After already spending some of his year abroad in Mexico, he was planning to visit Germany in April. Alex was previously in Beijing and moved over to Qingdao with his current host family, who have a holiday home there, and has told Gair Rhydd about his experiences of being in a country in constant fear over the outbreak of Wuhan Coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.   

“I came to China at the start of January on my year abroad and am currently working as part of an Au Pair, teaching English and staying with a host family. I spent one semester in Mexico and go to Germany in April. I was in Beijing and we moved south, over to Qingdao where I am at the moment as the family I am with have a holiday home here. We came over during the Spring Festival and stayed since then as the outbreak of the virus has become more widespread. 

“I’m very fortunate to be with the family I am with. At the moment we are very largely confined and the only time I can go out is early in the mornings before 8 o’clock. After that point, you have to come home because that’s when it becomes busy and people start coming out. It’s just a lot safer if you’re away from any contact with people. You have to avoid most forms of public transport, shopping malls etc. too. 

“We got in Qingdao on January 19 and expected to be here for two weeks, but four weeks later it’s likely I’ll be here for a lot longer.  

“I don’t know that many people who are in a similar situation to me. There are a few more Au Pairs in Beijing, but I’m very much on my own out here as far as being a Brit is concerned. I mean, Beijing is pretty bad at the moment; it’s a lot worse than here. You can’t go out at all and you have to stay indoors to protect yourself from the virus. 

“As soon as we go outside, you must be sprayed with disinfectant, wash your hair and hands and everywhere on your clothes. My host father will always spray any food or shopping with disinfectant before we can eat it to make sure that there is definitely no risk of contamination. For me and my host father, it might not be that big of a risk, but [it] certainly [is] for my eight-year-old host brother and his grandparents who are in their 80s; their immune systems are a lot weaker. This makes them a lot more vulnerable.” 

Are you afraid of catching the virus yourself?  

As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t really go out very much. I go running in the morning and even then, I wear a mask. So, I think I’m doing everything I can to not catch the disease. In Qingdao, there have been around 23 reported cases as we’re talking now which isn’t too bad considering how bad it has been across the year. I consider myself a healthy adult so even the chances of me catching it – even though there’s no cure for it now – I don’t think that it’s going to do a lot of damage. From what I’ve heard people who have pre-existing medical conditions who are mainly at risk.   

How do you think the Chinese government have dealt with this?  

“So, I arrived on the 19th of January and by the 26th there were people with cameras monitoring where you had travelled, whether it be on a motorway or even walking into a shop. You’d always have your temperature checked everywhere you go, and still do. I’d say the government here has definitely dealt with it efficiently. It’s not the first time something like this has happened, so the people almost know what to do. With Wuhan on complete lock-down and other cities being very careful with any of the peoples’ movements, it’s clear to see a lot is being done to contain the virus as well as possible. I think, similarly, the UK government is doing the best it can considering what is happening. It evacuated Wuhan citizens as we know and from what I am aware, is working to evacuate others across China and around the world too. I do think that the media should stop scaremongering. I appreciate that there is a concern for the virus, but there is no need to scare people into thinking it’s something which it is not. I’ve read some articles lately, some of which have inferred that Chinese people are getting the virus because they’re not educated, which is ridiculous. 

“My parents are really worried, as you’d expect them to be. But they’re also understanding that I need to do this properly and stay out here until the situation calms down. It’s definitely a very isolating experience and the main isolation comes from not only being physically isolated from the rest of the world, but also isolated from my loved ones. If I could I’d go back to my family I would do so straight away, but I can’t because of the risk of flying back. I think I am quite fortunate though because I have a family here in China who are looking after me and are extremely welcoming.” 

The Wuhan Coronavirus death toll is now above 2,000. A graphic from WorldPop Project from January estimated how far COVID-19 might spread. The data is believed to be based on mobile phone and flight information of 60,000 of the five million residents who fled the outbreak of Coronavirus in Wuhan, which was then used by Southampton University to track the potential spread of the virus over the next three months.

Since our initial interview, Alex informed Gair Rhydd that after speaking to his family in the UK, an arrangement had been made for him to fly back to Heathrow Airport on Friday February 19. He would then travel back to his home city of Southampton, where his family have booked an apartment for him to ‘self-quarantine’ and isolate himself for two weeks, avoiding any contact with other people to try and prevent any further spread of the virus. On a government advice page, the British Embassy in Beijing advises that if a British citizen wants to leave China via commercial means, citizens will not be placed into quarantine. It says, “people arriving from Wuhan and Hubei Province to the UK in the last 14 days should stay indoors and avoid contact with other people” and advises them to “call NHS 111 to inform health authorities of your recent visit to the area.” This applies to people who do not have symptoms of the virus.  

Alex told Gair Rhydd, “I know that if I do display any symptoms after I arrive in Heathrow, they will probably quarantine me and try and protect those around me as best as possible. From what I’ve heard it sounds like they’re taking similar measures to how the Chinese are dealing with this by measuring your temperature after you arrive”.  

Alex added, “I don’t think I’ll be putting people at risk when I travel on public transport because I don’t think I’m much of a risk anyway, coming from Qingdao and with the number of cases going down anyway. I’ll be wearing a mask on the train to Southampton too”.  

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