COVID in Asia

March 5, 2020

Formerly known as 2019-nCoV, now as COVID-19, the ‘sickness that comes from China because Chinese people eat everything and anything that moves, and they deserve it because they are killing Uyghurs’ is a virus which, unless your access to world news and social media has been blocked, you’ve probably heard plenty about.  The outbreak of the airborne disease that has spread around the world in just a few weeks since it began was in Wuhan, China. 


The disease has had a major impact on the world, and not just in terms of health: xenophobia has been on the rise throughout the world, the app Plague Inc has seen a rise in downloads, and your iPhone shipping might be delayed because factories in China have been closed since January. 


Rather than arguing whether or not you should take your Uber because the driver looks Asian, or why no country deserves to have a deadly virus, I would just like to explain to you how the disease spread so quickly, and my perspective of the virus as someone who currently resides in Shanghai (~800km away from Wuhan).


It is a fact that the local government has known about the outbreak since December but only took action in January when things had already gone too far. Why didn’t they take action?


Lunar New Year. The most important celebration in China was approaching, and this is when everyone returns home to visit family and spend time with them. This is the only time of the year when Chinese citizens can truly be reunited with family, and the Chinese government refused to shut down cities and transportation methods right before the beginning of this major holiday. 


As the government did not stop any mode of transportation, many citizens living in Wuhan went home or traveled abroad with their families to nearby countries. This was the start of the spread. The coronavirus is pretty infectious: just being around someone, touching something they touched, or shaking hands with someone with coronavirus can cause an infection.


So that’s how everything started and began to spread throughout the world, and since then the government has begun to take action. As many of you may already know, additional hospitals are being built in Wuhan to accept all the people who have the sickness, the government has announced that they have fired several Wuhan officials, and President Xi Jinping has promised to battle the ‘demon coronavirus’. 46 million people in China have been put on lockdown, most of them in Wuhan, which to put into perspective, is the same as the entirety of Spain. 


Added to all of this, after the huge scandal that the Chinese government had caused during the 2003 SARS outbreak, no one is trusting the numbers that they are releasing. Who knows if there are actually 74,500 people within China that have caught the disease? How many more are there? It must be noted that the official numbers do not count the number of people who have died at home from the virus because there was no more space in hospitals.


So, what do things look like now in urban China? 


In the middle of the New Year holiday, all schools, public or private, were informed that their reopening would be decided by the Chinese government. The date school was supposed to resume before the outbreak was February 3rd, but the date has just been pushed back over and over again – February 17th, March 2nd, and now, it has been announced that school campus reopening dates are undecided. When the date is announced, all staff members and families must return to China a minimum of fourteen days before said-date so that we can be quarantined.


As a result of school closure, we have been doing online school. Every day, teachers, who are spread out across the world from London to Thailand to Portland (twenty different time zones), post assignments and homework at 8 AM Shanghai time and are required to give a minimum of 24 hours for students to complete these tasks and turn them in. 


And let me tell you, never in my life have I ever wanted to go to school more than right now. Online school has only been a pile of stress and problems that have been growing exponentially as each day passes. Having to try and understand the content of a course based on a dysfunctional PPT, endless pages of reading, homework for practice, is not really teaching me anything. 


And don’t get me started on the summatives. Please. Who likes having their computer on ‘lockdown’ mode and your camera open for teachers to watch every passing second?


I was, fortunately,  able to leave China, as I had plans for Lunar New Year, and once the holidays had been extended and the online school announced, I was able to go home to Seoul, South Korea. The tensions have been high here too, with no one leaving their houses unless absolutely necessary, and always taking a mask with them. Those without a mask are avoided and ignored. I’ve been living the nomad life: I’m in Paris now.


Although the majority of students from my school have left China to different countries and diplomat families have returned to their home countries, the ones who remain within the country are in the most difficult situation. They don’t leave the four walls of their houses, having nothing much to do other than online school and lounge around. My friend has been living off a variety of different egg recipes because she doesn’t want to go buy groceries. Year 11 Biology students are confused because, how are you supposed to write up and perform your first lab of the year about homeostasis when you’re locked up? They can’t leave now – most countries are beginning to refuse people who reside in China or who have been there.


The second most populated city in the world, known for its lively and bustling streets, is now empty and silent. 

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