UK citizens in China, South Korea, Japan and Italy detail their experiences as outbreak continues...
‘Everyone is desperate to get back to work’: Gav Munro, 47, an artist based in Hangzhou, China.
While the spread of coronavirus in the UK is in its early stages, Britons around the world have been living with the impact of the virus for some time.
In Hangzhou, China, just a few hundred miles from Wuhan, the city where the outbreak started life has slowly been returning to normal for Gav Munro, an artist, and his wife, Juliet, after being isolated at home for five weeks.
“We were under self-quarantine at the end of January but by February it had become mandatory and we were restricted to one person per household being allowed out every four days,” said the 47-year-old. “On the first night of quarantine, I went for a ride on an electric bike and it was so quiet. That was when I knew it was serious.”
China has been dealing with the crisis since the beginning of the year. A month ago, the worst affected area, Hubei province, was reporting several thousand new cases a day. On Wednesday there were only eight new infections, the first time the province has recorded a daily tally in single-digits.
Gav painting portraits at home
“During our time in quarantine I went for walks in the communal garden in the apartment complex,” said Munro, who has lived in China for 13 years. “I didn’t feel like there was an environment of fear as people weren’t really panicking. You’d go to the shops and people would help each other out.”
On 14 February the couple were given a “free pass” to leave whenever they wanted. When outside, Munro has been using an app called Alipay Health Code to make sure he does not walk into areas where there may be confirmed cases.
Gav showing the green health code required before entering any public buildings
The app, which has been criticised for appearing to share private information with the police, gives users a red, yellow or green QR code depending on the status of their health. Munro has found it helpful. “It’s amazing,” he said. “A green code, which I have, means I can go about as normal. A yellow code means someone may be quarantined for seven days, and a red code means 14 days. You have to show the code in every store you go to, but it reassures me that I’m in a safe area.
“The city is slowly getting back to normal and everyone I know is desperate to get back to work.”
Despite spending more than a month indoors, John Williamson and his wife, Vivi, were in self-quarantine for the second time in Liuzhou in southern China, where there have been a few hundred cases in the province. “We stayed with Vivi’s parents in Nanning over 100 miles away after the Chinese new year holiday and didn’t leave for more than 30 days,” he said. “It wasn’t mandatory but travel wasn’t recommended at the time. When we arrived back home we decided to self-quarantine again just in case.”
John, 59, and Vivi, 40, finished their second self-quarantine on Thursday. “We probably won’t go anywhere beyond the local supermarket and if we do go out, we of course will be wearing masks.”
John and Vivi
John, who teaches English at Guangxi University of Science and Technology, said things had been very different since the virus hit. “Before there were no barriers anywhere,” he said. “Now there are metal fences all over and access to our building is restricted to only one entrance.
“At first I thought the measures were overkill but I think we have the problem relatively under control now. It’s not that bad but it feels like I haven’t been out for so long. At least when we wanted something we could have it delivered. You could even get coffee from Starbucks.”
In South Korea, which is now the fourth-most-affected country after China with 7,869 cases, there’s hope that the country is approaching a turning point.
In North Gyeongsang province, near the centre of the country’s outbreak in Daegu, Amanda, 25, an English teacher, said many events in April had been cancelled. “There are signs everywhere reminding us to wear masks, wash our hands and use sanitisers,” she said. “There are even some places, like pharmacies, where you cannot enter without wearing a mask. Buying them is also limited to two per person to ensure there’s enough for everyone.”
Amanda stays across new developments through government alerts on her phone. “They update me on the number of confirmed cases, which regions they’re in, which hospitals patients are in as well as hygiene prevention measures we should follow,” she said. “They also tell us the public transport routes patients have taken so we know which ones to avoid. I personally feel the authorities are really taking this seriously.
An empty subway station
“Schools are closed and the return date has been consistently pushed back – it was 2 March and now it’s the 23rd. I think it will get a bit better but we’re not out of the woods yet.”
One hundred miles north in Seongnam, despite some businesses closing early in the evening, Emily Barton, 28, and her husband said they felt relatively safe.
“Over two weeks ago it was much busier outside but people are more wary now of giving each other space,” said Barton, who works as a teacher at an international school. “We’ve been avoiding public transport and large gatherings but everyone is being so careful.
“A drive-through testing facility has been set up to make it easier for people to remain isolated. You drive up, they test you, you get given some snacks and wait in your car for the results. It’s very efficient.”
“As a married couple in our late 20s it’s difficult not having much to do. It’s not just boredom, but worry and monotony. I’m concerned about how long schools will be closed for,” she said. “I work at a small private school and with parents not paying fees because students are not attending, there’s a risk of it having a knock-on effect on teachers’ wages.”
An empty street in Seongnam.
Steve Good, across the Sea of Japan in Kushiro, Hokkaido, wants his two children to go back to school, after they closed at the end of February. “We can’t work as much as we want,” said the 51-year-old teacher, who has lived in the country for more than 20 years. “Their books are still at school so we don’t really know what to do, but we don’t want to waste the time we have.”
After a state of emergency was declared in the prefecture at the end of February, residents were asked to remain at home for a few days. “Unlike lockdowns in other countries we were asked nicely not to go out, rather than told not to. This might be because people in Hokkaido are used to crises like earthquakes and tsunamis. There’s no panic, just a strange energy – it’s weird,” he said.
“Toilet paper and rice are the main things you can’t seem to buy. We’ve been in self-quarantine for nearly two weeks but there’s only so much you can do. I think it will all blow over in a couple of weeks but we’ve already got cabin fever.”
Japan has closed schools until April. The country had one of the largest outbreaks outside China in February, when the Diamond Princess cruise ship was docked in Yokohama. At the end of February more than 600 passengers tested positive. It has now dropped in the table of global infections to 15th place with 639 cases.
An empty milk shelf in supermarket, Esselunga.
As Covid-19 spreads in Europe, Italy has become the deadliest site for the virus outside China with over 1,000 deaths and more than 15,000 infected. The entire country is on lockdown – all shops, bars and restaurants are closed, and schools and universities are not due to open again until April.
Lauren Doling, 49, who works as a teacher and lives in Rosate, one hour from the centre of the outbreak in Codogno, said she felt isolated now that she could not leave Lombardy. “I can’t use the Metro to move around any more so I’m at home a lot more now, when I would have been out for up to 13 hours a day,” she said. “There’s quite a bit of paranoia going around and it’s quite eerie.
“Bars were open in the evening last week, where you would wait for someone to come and serve you at a table, but now everything’s closed,” said Doling, who has lived in Italy for 19 years. “There are empty shelves in the supermarket. I’m vegan so it doesn’t really affect me, but there’s no meat and milk.”
Doling has prepared online lessons for her students. “We’re teaching them using a new platform which has been an interesting challenge. I’m feeling frustrated our regular lives have had to be put on hold for the time being, though. It’s as if everything is on standby.”
Near Dolo in the Venice province, Jodie, 42, has been trying to keep her eight-year-old son occupied during their third week indoors. “We’re just at home doing nothing,” she said. “We have YouTube and Fortnite, but he probably shouldn’t be playing that.”