Sunday, 9 February 2020

Why I'm Staying in China during the Coronavirus Outbreak

I'm not going to lie and say this has been an easy decision, and that I haven't been back and forth, but my current plan is to try and weather the storm here in Beijing.

As I'm sure you know, during Spring Festival, there was an outbreak of a new strain of Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Wuhan, Hubei. Since the first reports, as I write this, there are over 34,000 cases in China alone, and cases in 27 other countries worldwide. I'm not going to give you the whole low down on this virus, because I'm certain you'll know about it already.

During the start of the outbreak, I was (mostly) blissfully unaware and loving life in Sydney. It was only as it got closer and closer to the date I was due to return that I started to worry and actually take note of the news reports. On my last day, I ended up extending my stay by three nights before reluctantly flying back to Beijing.

As I touched down on Chinese soil, I was flooded with fear and regret as we were held in quarantine on the plane. Had I just made the biggest mistake ever? As we were let out of quarantine and I made the final leg of my journey to Beijing and saw people...getting on with life, the fear slowly began to subside.

It's very easy to get swept up in the hysteria, particularly when your family is so far away and are in touch telling you that it's smarter to go home and wait it out there. I've had friends flee back to their home countries, and colleagues that have literally barricaded themselves in their homes. Western media will have you believe that the whole of China is on lockdown and a ghost town, but that's not exactly the reality. Yes, my apartment building's security will register you and take your temperature on arrival to check for a fever and won't let delivery drivers in the complex, supermarkets and restaurants won't let you in without a mask and temperature check, but as long as you comply with checks you can go pretty much wherever you want. A lot of places are closed, and it's wise and recommended to avoid crowded places, but a trip to the supermarket and back isn't as terrifying as people make out. Beijing has now made it mandatory to wear masks in public, and if you don't comply you can face either a hefty fine or even a short spell in jail.

It seems pretty clear to me that China is doing everything in its power to contain the Coronavirus. How many countries do you know that could put a whole city on lockdown without riots? Buses are routinely disinfected, subways are disinfected, tissues have been put in lifts to use to press the buttons, cars are sprayed with disinfectant as they enter car parks, and masks are now mandatory in all public places in Beijing. As much as I'm in two minds about staying, I do have faith that Beijing is doing everything they can to slow and stop the spread of this virus.

The main reason I haven't left is that my life is here now. Not only am I 700 miles away from the epicentre of this outbreak, but all of my things are here, I have a routine, I have friends that are still here. It isn't so easy as to just up and leave until it all blows over. Nevermind the fact that the number of flights has been cut in half, a flight from Beijing to Manchester is expensive, bro. Not only is it expensive, but in my eyes, I'm more at risk of contracting this virus during my journey home, because of think of how many people I'd have to be in contact with. My taxi driver to the airport, people at the check-in desk, security checks, other passengers. It just doesn't seem like a risk I want to take at the minute.

That isn't to say that my plan won't change. If there is a huge outbreak of the Coronavirus in Beijing, I can almost guarantee you I'll be on the first available flight out. I've already been told I won't be able to work until March, and if that's delayed any further, I might come home for a few weeks, just so I don't go stir crazy at home. For now, I've fostered a sweet little puppy called Marshmallow to keep some sort of routine going, and to stop myself wasting all my time. I'm doing my best to find online classes, but as I'm sure you can imagine, half of Beijing is doing exactly the same.

I don't really know how to end this post, other than that I'm not trying to be pigheaded or stubborn about staying here. As it stands, I currently feel it's much riskier to go home than it is to stay.

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