“I had a lot of free time over the Christmas holidays, and I was often online chatting with friends and family in Wuhan. That’s when I first heard stories about this strange new variant of pneumonia in Wuhan. In the beginning, it was just a handful of patients, so I wasn’t too concerned about it.”
But that all changed on 20 January. “Suddenly, there were hundreds of patients, and the city went into a panic. My parents tried to buy masks as soon as the news broke, but they were barely able to. Eventually, they managed to buy twenty. But you can only wear these masks a few hours, so you’ve used them up in no time. And you’re not allowed to leave home without one.”
In addition, there’s a chronic shortage of beds for patients – even though the city managed to build two hospitals from scratch in a matter of days. “The doctors helping the citizens of Wuhan are fantastic – true heroes,” says Shihui.
Iceland called off
It was hard to ignore the consequences of the outbreak: public transport was suspended and cars were no longer allowed on the road. “Wuhan is divided by rivers into different districts, and police have put up roadblocks at the bridges.”
Shihui also had to put off her plan to meet up with her mother in late February: “We originally planned to go to Iceland together, which would have been a wonderful trip. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to see my parents until the end of March at the earliest [the travel ban will be in force until at least that time, Eds.]. I expect this situation to last until April or May at least. I really miss my mother.”
Shihui’s father is a foreman in construction; her mother works for a government agency. But not right now: as long as the outbreak continues, they’ll be cloistered on the 22nd floor of a block of flats in a suburb of the Chinese metropolis. They need to stay inside as much as possible. “They only leave their flat to pick up groceries. They go to a small corner-shop supermarket and stock up as much as they can in one go.” Most products are still readily available, although shortages are reportedly more acute in the city centre. “I’ve heard it’s more difficult to get vegetables there, although so far it hasn’t proven a problem for my parents. The only items that are in severe shortage are masks and disinfectant.” Her parents have also devised a means to get groceries delivered to their homes.
Cleaning and yoga
While fortunately her parents haven’t fallen ill, they are quite bored by now. “They’ve been cleaning the house every day, and they started doing yoga. Not something they were really into beforehand,” she says with a smile. “They’re confident the government will take care of them. My parents are usually pretty chill.”
Shihui herself is slightly more concerned, since other news has brought the virus pretty close to home. “The grandmother of one of my friends recently fell ill, and it’s very dangerous for senior citizens.” Two residents from her parents’ block have also been hospitalised after catching the virus.
Shihui hasn’t found anyone in a similar situation at EUR. “As far as I know, I’m the only student from Wuhan. There are six other Chinese students in my master programme, but they’re all from the north: a long way from the outbreak.”