Coronavirus: Quarantined in Wuhan, a Teenager Tells his Story
Zach is living in Wuhan and has taken the time to talk about his experience of the city from which the coronavirus originated. Since returning to his hometown, he has become restricted to his grandparent’s house, as a quarantine was introduced almost immediately upon his arrival.
According to Zach, authorities had already been aware of the virus’ presence in Wuhan, although they did not take it sufficiently seriously. He states, “Provincial government basically said they had control of the situation so it was safe to travel to Wuhan, and they didn’t stop the trains and the cars when people were coming back for Chinese New Year,”. Those with relations to the government were given a heads-up; having been warned about the disease, they, along with the friends they informed, were able to flee the country. By failing to restrict travel, the virus was spread; there have now been cases identified in 25 different countries, including almost 12,000 in China.
Zach does not believe the international media have necessarily been unjust in their dramatic portrayal of the virus. He explains that “China does not want [the situation] to sound too scary”, thus the official death tolls are inaccurate, lower than the real statistics. This is because the Chinese government is not counting those who died in their homes; in order to be “counted”, you have to go to the hospital to be officially diagnosed. “Even if you have the symptoms but you haven't been tested, it doesn't work like that. You have to be tested and then die, so only a small percentage of people who actually died are counted.”. Zach describes that, as symptoms don’t appear until 14 days after infection, some people become too ill before they can seek medical attention, so effectively die off the record. Additionally, he explains that how hospitals have had to stop accepting the ill, due to overcrowding and an inability to discharge patients; as a result, deaths are occurring at home. Worryingly, there does not seem to be a vaccine or antidote to the virus, so all the doctors can do is keep patients alive until they recover. However, medical teams are being brought in from all over the country.
Despite emphasising that the illness is “not that deadly”, Zach expresses his concern: “If you can’t cure [the coronavirus], there’s no real solution to the problem. We’re just trying to make it less severe.” The family of coronaviruses can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe conditions such as SARS and Middle East Respiratory syndrome. Symptoms include fever, difficulty in breathing, and severe coughing.
Strangely, Zach recounts, a movie called ‘Contagion’ shown over the New Year appears to have simulated the spread of the disease today. The 2011 film follows the story of a virus that ultimately has the potential to destroy the global population; it is spread from a bat, to a pig, and eventually to a chef. Similarly, it is thought that the coronavirus originated from a bat, hence the frenzy that Twitter users went into, claiming the film may even have predicted the future. The film even found itself at number 10 on the iTunes rental charts.
Regarding food security, Zach explains, “The government has provided a bunch of food in Wuhan, so technically, if you want to get it, you’re not going to starve and the supermarkets are all open so the economy is going normally. The problem is it’s all about your choice. If you’re scared of catching the virus, you don't want to go to the supermarket because it’s really crowded. My parents don’t want me to take the risk, so they stocked a lot of stuff from before”.
Responding to the question “Are you missing school?” Zach replies “Everyone is missing school. Every single school in China is closed, even the international schools”; Zach’s school is set to be open on February the 17th at the very earliest, whereas others are predicted to remain shut until May. In addition to schools, train stations are closed, alongside other transport links, including bridges. For example, there’s a “bridge outside [Zach]’s house that’s blocked. There are two roads that lead out of [his] village and both of them are blocked so [he’s] literally stuck in the village.” Beijing and Shanghai are also under lockdown - to leave by car is impossible, although international flights are still available. Regarding the province of Hubei, where he lives, “there’s nothing you can do” in terms of travel.
Zach then raises the point of racist and offensive stereotypes, with some making comments such as “you deserve [the virus] for eating cats and dogs”, while others have posted photographs of Asian food with captions such as: “This is why China has the Coronavirus”.
Cat went on to ask Zach,“ In situations like these, do you think the autocratic form of government is working for China?”, to which he responded: “The reason why this started in the first place is because of a big flaw in the Chinese governmental system,”, proceeding to explain that regional governors are determined to maintain a flawless reputation in order to gain a promotion, hence their reluctance to report an outspread of disease. He continued, “What happened in Wuhan was people claiming that they have control over the virus and that all was well when it was not. [Initially] they even arrested some of the doctors who spoke the truth and admitted the virus was a cause of concern. That’s the government’s fault. The whole country only started taking the virus seriously when Xi Jinping made a speech.”
However, he emphasises that in some ways, China’s style of governance has its advantages. “After he [Xi Jingping] made a speech, the allocation of resources was very effective. Wuhan right not is not producing anything, a city of a couple of million people can not sustain themselves”. China’s strong government not only makes it possible to lock down major cities to prevent the spread of the virus, but also collect agricultural products from all over the country to give to Wuhan.
In terms of those who have been worst affected, Zach explains that not even the rich can bribe their way out of the situation, while “a lot of poor people don’t really have a comfortable place to live in so you’re more exposed to risk of catching the virus since you need to go out to get essential needs.”
However, on a personal level, Zach isn’t “that scared, since the likeliness of people who are under 20 getting it is less than 1%,”. The majority of victims are those who are elderly, and/or with underlying health issues. Zach describes his wish to keep his “life going”, explaining that he is more concerned about his ability to exit Wuhan, rather than the threat of being contaminated with the virus. Measures have naturally been taken in the household; after playing basketball in the outside yard, Zach and his family have to “shower [their”] entire bodies with alcohol”, and “keep the temperature at home above 20 degrees, because it’s harder for the virus to survive in those conditions,”. On a national level, he notes, it would be catastrophic for the economy if trade was to cease due to concern about the illness.
Zach also sadly knows of someone from middle school whose father died as a result of being infected with the virus.
Our thanks go to Zach for his willingness to share his experience with us.