Exclusive: Life under lockdown – Coronavirus in China.
Little did Emma (not her real name) know that when she took on an exciting role teaching English in China, she would be caught up in the whirlwind of a Coronavirus, alone, 5,000 miles from home.
Back in November, Emma struck out on her own to go and teach English in a Chinese school about 250 miles from the capital, Beijing. The chance of a lifetime, Emma, originally from Telford, had just seen the Lunar New Year celebrations when the Coronavirus struck.
With over 400 people in her town dying, the threat is real and the consequences of being near the heart of the outbreak are all too evident. Telford Live caught up with Emma in an exclusive interview.
Emma finds the situation a little surreal “it’s just a very odd situation to be in, as [I’ve] never really been in a locked in type situation. So dealing with the unknown at the moment.”
“We had a week off for Lunar New Year, when we were told to cancel any trips we had planned and to return back to our city. Then we had another week and a half off. Lunar New Year, the Chinese travel all over the country, so when that ended and people started returning to their own cities and the virus casualties doubled. ”
Emma lives in an apartment in a complex about 700 miles from the city of Wuhan, thought to be the epicentre of the outbreak. She is allowed out according to a strict timetable in an attempt by the authorities to keep the risk of catching the virus as low as possible.
“We’re allowed out every other day, but only for 3 hours and you have to leave within certain times otherwise you’re not allowed out. If you return after your slot, they won’t let you back in to your complex. And you’re screwed. You can go into other apartment blocks in the complex, but everyone is kinda keeping to themselves.”
Life in the busy city has virtually stopped. “We don’t receive mail to the buildings. If I want mail I have to get it sent to my school. But from what I’ve seen not much mail has been going out. Everything is closed. The only places that are open are the supermarkets.”
The teaching continues though, say Emma. “We’re recording videos for the time being as the local government have said no schools are to open so we’re currently stuck in our flats teaching online for now.”
“We’re [teaching] using WeChat. It’s somewhat like whatsapp, but the Chinese use it for everything ordering food/taxis/ trains and paying for everything.”
I asked Emma what the support from the UK has been like during the outbreak: ”I was trying to call the British Embassy when the virus first kicked off. No answer. I tried many different numbers but nothing. “
“When they started putting restrictions on us going out I called again, and again no answer. I then tried the emergency number and got through to London and they told me to follow the government guidelines and that was it. So they weren’t much help.”
What’s it like living under the lockdown? “No one knows anything. Our school keeps telling us everything’s okay but can’t tell us an actual date we can return to work. So that’s the main panic as no one knows how long this situation is going to last”
Does it feel like the virus is close? “Yeah, the mall right by me that I use frequently is also an apartment complex and 5 people were all tested positive.“
So it’s back to work for Emma, not knowing when this might end. Her teaching contract isn’t up until Christmas, but living under these conditions isn’t easy. On censorship; “No one has told us explicitly to not talk about what’s happening, but it’s very much made clear to be careful.”
While travelling so far away has it's drawbacks, Emma would recommend it to anyone thinking about teaching abroad "Take the opportunity for the experience."
"China is breathtaking in many ways. Just take your time in picking the company you want to apply for as there are good ones as well as bad ones. Also, give it some time for the virus to die off and the cities to recover."