Life with Covid19: The lockdown in China – an interesting experience!

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2019 file photo, people wearing face masks watch pro-democracy protesters in Central, Hong Kong. In 2019, face masks were the signature of Hong Kongs protesters, who wore them to protect against tear gas and conceal their identities from authorities. These same masks are now ubiquitous around the world -- a hallmark of the spreading coronavirus worn by people from China and Iran, to Italy and America, seeking to protect against the new coronavirus. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

Universities, or schools as they are called in China, are still on lockdown. Yet the teaching continues because of the advantage of access to internet and cheap WiFi. At the moment, our WiFi is free till further notice. While some modules are postponed because they require practical, hands on skills training, for those which do not, WeChat video calling for live stream teaching and some for research defense has been conducted online. 

As a postgraduate student, my supervisor, besides communicating on reporting, would often text me and ask if I am still fine. He would also insist that should there be any changes I should alert him. In other words, support is a basic unit for fighting this virus and unity amongst the community. 

In China, based on the mere size of their system, you could graduate without seeing your university president, the vice-chancellor, or his/her deputy but would only get to see them in school magazines and other school reporting platforms. As the staff came to give us bread and rusks, I was surprised to be introduced to an ordinary person as the university president, who came to observe the situation in our dormitory. 

In my school here in Beijing, Beihang University, all entrance are closed with corrugated iron material and the only single entry is controlled. If you want to go out of the campus you need to apply for an exit permit and it will be approved when the request is reasonable. So moving out of your building you are signed-out for exit and your temperature is tested, when coming back and then entering the school-gate, to the main campus, again you are tested. 

When you go to the canteen or a supermarket, all inside the campus, you are tested again for temperature. Everyday in your building, you are tested and it is mandatory to submit a daily health check. A system has been created to track the patterns of your health and you do that via your mobile-phone. 

Even if you are in your home country, you are still required to report on this app daily, as if you are in China and the app has options to indicate whether you are around in China or not. This way the university is able to analyze the data received and compared with global reports they will be able to determine the chances for you to be in contact with the virus and therefore prepare as an institution when you are returning.

Even though as student we like saving a bit of our stipend, things are getting a bit expensive as compared before the lockdown. Whereas before I had purchased a a 900ml bottle of honey, at Walmart, I would pay RMB29,95 (R65). Now no longer allowed to go to Walmart, in the school supermarket it was RMB39,99 (R85) one week back and two days ago the price had gone up to RMB59,99 (R130).

One of my friends, who is living on an Island at Hainan Medical University, says she is not living on her campus but the rules are the same; daily reporting, when going out a permit is needed and the frequent temperature tests are done. 

When people have travelled, they are categorized. For instance, there was or still is category A, detected with the virus from the epicenter. Category AB, they contracted the infection from another person or human to human. The category also corresponds with the kind of measures to be taken. 

When students arrived in January, from their traveling, they were quarantined in a remote building for a number of days. It was not self quarantine because they had to be checked in order to be declared negative. Furthermore, the university has issued a communiqué stating that no students are allowed to come back till further notice while you are still allowed to go back to your country. 

We were told recently that as foreigners our visas will be extended for two months, so there would be no need to go to renew them at the immigration centre, as things are still locked down. 

Life in China is continuing as normal but with these movement measurements in place, in order to stop the spread of the virus. It is our behavior that is changing. Different WeChat groups were created, where there is interaction with teachers, as called in China for a lecturer, you can still register online as done previously and continue with your modules. You just have to do it differently this time. Indeed we adapt while fighting with the Chinese to stop this Covid19 and it brought behavioral change.

Sibusiso R Bakana is a Diplomatic Society Representative in China and PhD student at Beihang University, Beijing, China.