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A Coronavirus disturbed Chinese New Year

A Personal Report – what was it like in China

Image Credit: Gruber, Christian C.; Steinkellner, Georg (2020): Comparative model of novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV protease Mpro. figshare. Dataset.

2020 started badly for China. The year of the rat was welcomed by the Coronavirus. For many years, I haven’t been back home for Chinese New Year. Loaded with sweet childhood memory, I embarked on a long journey home this year.

On 18th January, I arrived at Beijing airport. Everything looked normal. I can’t remember if I had skimmed through any newsfeed about the Wuhan virus, which soon enough will become a national nightmare and – further on – an international panic.

I enjoyed three days’ feast at my granny’s place in a small town. Just before taking the train to my parents, my mom pushed me to wear a mask during the trip, because of some “emerging” virus situation. I thought it would be just another fake SARS, as we were super alerted after 2003. Every now and then, there is a “possible” epidemic emerging and disappearing. Still, just to ease my mom’s nerve, I bought some masks from the pharmacy, which was no problem at all at the time. It’s hard to imagine that only two days later, all masks were sold out throughout China, and later on, it became a scarce good worldwide.

On 21st January, I took the train to Changchun. It seems like I was among the few ones wearing masks at both the train station and on the train. “Mom is being overcautious as always.” I thought to myself.

Upon arrival, we went to my favourite restaurant in the shopping mall.  Every place was packed, like usual during the Chinese New year period. But who would have thought, over the coming two days, shopping malls and restaurants would get emptier and emptier. Certainly not the restaurant owners. They were forced to witness tons of their ingredients going rotten the next days. Eventually, the local government issued a notice to shut down “public gathering venues”, due to the intensifying Coronavirus situation. 

Things developed so quickly. The government policies were being issued one after another. News and rumours were flying around. Everyone was anxiously checking any news about coronavirus all the time.  The whole country was clouded under such terrifying atmosphere.

For the entire bank holiday, we were advised to but also voluntarily locked ourselves up at home. Despite only one reported confirmed patient in my city, the streets were almost empty. Everyone wore masks at all time. The community was calling every household to register and measure the temperature of people who travelled from outside.

There were even rumours about airport shut-downs. My family chat exploded about whether I should go to Beijing earlier to catch my flight back to Switzerland. On 27th January, I arrived safe and sound in Beijing. Both airports looked unusually empty. Not surprisingly, the temperature check devices had been activated. The next day, I departed as planned to Switzerland. My family was relieved.  On 29th January, Lufthansa Group announced the cancellation of flights to China.

During the following 14-day voluntary quarantine, I witnessed the ripple effect of the Coronavirus, from overseas Chinese self-organising donation to a general fear towards Asian looking people, from the incredible speed of building hospitals to countries evacuating their citizens from Wuhan and banning entry of Chinese, from concentrating on the medical supply to concerning about small business and wider economy suffering.

Nobody knows when this will end, or if anything worse is yet to come. But faith will lead us through the darkness.