We heard many stories of angry foreigners, frustrated and mad that their freedom had been taken away from them. The people of China, however, calmly and humbly continued and within two months there was not a single case of the virus in my entire city of over 9 million people, writes Gerhard Uys.
It was two days after Valentine's Day when my company informed me that our school won't be opening for at least five weeks. That meant at least one more month stuck inside my apartment, not being able to visit friends in other communities, and only being allowed to leave once every two days. I had become so used to running ten kilometres every day in the park next to my house and then playing outdoor table tennis for another hour or so, that this forced isolation looked like a prison sentence to me. So I decided to search online for some cheap tickets to a warmer, safer country.
I found a surprisingly cheap flight to Thailand, and two days later my friend and I were off to the beautiful Phuket. We found the airport in Hefei, a city of over 9 million people, to be eerily quiet. Everyone wore masks and stood a safe distance from each other. We noticed a group of South Africans all talking about 'the virus' and how they were looking forward to being able to see people's faces again in Thailand.
We arrived in Thailand and immediately noted the sharp contrast. It felt strange and wonderful to be able to walk around with a big visible smile on our mask-free faces, the hot sun a welcome relief from China's gloomy winter. We swam in the sea, ate wonderful Thai food in the streets and even rented a motorbike and drove around the entire Phuket island. The virus felt like it was a world away.
Two weeks later we decided it was time to head back, as we thought our schools might open in the coming weeks, and we wanted to be ready to start work on time.
Then, a few hours before departure, I received a call saying I would not be allowed into my apartment, and would have to find a hotel or other appropriate accommodation for the next fourteen days. I had to be quarantined.
Fortunately, my company found me a community where I was allowed to enter and live for the next fourteen days with a fellow colleague from Wilderness, South Africa. We became best friends as we discussed the virus situation and watched from the comfort of our tenth-floor apartment as the virus makes its way into just about every country in the world.
I finished my quarantine after fourteen days and was finally allowed back into my own apartment. I noticed that everything was slowly getting back to normal. Every day a new shop was open and more and more people could be seen on the streets. Then all of a sudden the restaurants and street shops opened. Things were just about back to normal.
China was almost back to normal, but the rest of the world was not. I noticed more and more people texting me and sending me voice messages, asking me how China coped with this invisible enemy and what they should expect. Most people seemed to understand that the 'lockdown' was for their own good, and that this too shall pass.
The way China handled this situation was amazing. The one day I saw people were calmly wearing and buying their masks, and a few days later there was almost no one to be seen on the streets. Then the jokes and funny home videos started, and then it was over. Just like that. People didn't complain or riot or show anger. They accepted it as if this thing was done every year. They made the best of the situation and found joy in working together to fight the virus. They obeyed the rules and did what had to be done.
We heard many stories of angry foreigners, frustrated and mad that their freedom had been taken away from them. The people of China, however, calmly and humbly continued and within two months there was not a single case of the virus in my entire city of over 9 million people.
Yes, we all missed seeing our colleagues, family and friends. We missed seeing people smile. We missed being fully human. But the effort was worth it. We have to stop being nearsighted and start looking ahead. This world has never been perfect and this virus is just another sign that we don't live in paradise. But by working together, and thinking ahead, and taking the necessary precautions, we will beat this virus and come out stronger.
- Gerhard is originally from Waterval Boven, South Africa, and has worked as an English teacher in Hefei, China, since September 2017.