I’ve spent several weeks confined to my apartment building in Jinan, a few hours south of Beijing, where I work as an English teacher. I’ve dared to venture out only twice: to the grocery store, where a masked employee checked my temperature upon entrance, despite ominous warnings from coworkers to avoid stores as possible sites of coronavirus transmission. Other than that, I sit in my studio apartment, keeping busy with books, Netflix, and of course, pouring over the latest facts and figures on the epidemic on WeChat.

The few restaurants that remain open deliver to our lobby, and I head down, sometimes encountering pajama-clad neighbors, wearing my new “virus-resistant” facemask. I press the newly plastic-wrap-covered elevator buttons on my way to retrieve the day’s sustenance, often in the form of spicy fried chicken. Upon returning to my apartment, I wash my hands, reminding myself to last through two rounds of the ABCs, a song I used to sing daily with my students before the Lunar New Year holiday was extended and schools closed—and it's still unclear when they will reopen.

This is life under the coronavirus lockdown, which has pressed pause on everything but absolute necessities for nearly all of China’s 1.4 billion residents, foreigners who chose not to flee back to their home countries included. The goal, of course, is to put a stop to the spread of the virus. And this mission is not taken lightly. A WeChat message I received recently read, “Anyone who knowingly spreads the virus will be nailed to the pillar of Chinese history in shame.”

Each day, I receive texts from concerned friends and family at home. “Are you coming back to America?”

Each day, I receive texts from concerned friends and family at home. “Are you coming back to America?” “You can stay with me if you want—my parents are worried about you!” While I appreciate the sentiment behind such messages, the worry I see about coronavirus abroad, and the travel bans and lockdowns that worry has inspired are, in my opinion, doing more harm than good. After all, the World Health Organization warned against travel bans, and yet the U.S. has led the way in shutting its borders to non-citizens arriving from China. Australia and much of the rest of the world soon followed suit.

Colleagues of mine intending to travel abroad—an American heading to New Zealand to volunteer, and a Briton planning on visiting friends in the U.S.—have had to call off their plans despite being in a city of millions that has only roughly three dozen cases of the virus. In China, the lockdown of Wuhan has worsened problems the city was already facing: predominately lack of adequate levels of medical supplies and staff.

In The Spotlight

While the western media breaks news about coronavirus nonstop, life in my studio apartment continues its monotonous trudge through my recommended fourteen days of quarantine. I socialize with coworkers who live in my building on occasion, despite being warned against it, as there is only so long one can sit in a room alone and retain their sanity. Recently, following an evening gathering at another teacher’s apartment, our supervisor messaged us saying “during the epidemic period, we must not organize a party. If one person has a problem, everyone will encounter troubles.”

This is true to a degree, with a highly contagious disease on the loose. We have joked, at times, that if one of us were to contract the virus, we all would. And yet, I direct you again to my earlier mention of the few dozen cases in our city of millions. We feel at relatively little risk of infection, and if we are infected, all of us, across the board young and healthy, feel it is unlikely we would experience serious complications.

Outside of Wuhan, where medical supply shortages have worsened the virus’s effects, the death rate seems to be similar to that of the flu—well below one percent. Even inside Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicenter, the death rate does not approach that of the 2003 SARS epidemic. Of course, people have the right to be afraid—particularly those throughout China and nearby Asian countries. We don’t know if we can trust the Chinese government’s reporting on the virus, and there remains concern that they may be concealing the true number of infections, which could be much higher. With a lack of sufficient testing kits in Wuhan and the hectic, ongoing nature of the situation, reliable statistics may not be available to us for weeks or months.

For now, I urge those outside of China, and those who like me, are confined to cramped apartments throughout China but far from Wuhan, to remain calm. The international community must come together in support of Wuhan to contain this virus. Join in with the cheers across Chinese social media, and say “Jiāyóu (come on) Wuhan!”


Cami Bissen
About The Author Cami Bissen
A Washington, DC-area native, Cami Bissen graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in public policy studies in 2019. She lives in Jinan, Shandong province, China, where she works as an English teacher.

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