A Chinese Journalist’s Experience in the Days of the Coronavirus and His Message to TNH

Funeral workers disinfect themselves after handling a virus victim in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. (Chinatopix via AP)

NEW YORK – The National Herald contacted the Shanghai-based journalist Christian W. who shared his description of the situation during the coronavirus crisis in China and offers a clear message to every nation around the world.

The full text of his letter follows:

The first time I heard of the disease was on December 31, 2019 (I checked my WeChat history), a friend of mine forwarded me a message she saw: “There are SARS patients in Wuhan again,” and later I knew the message was sent by Dr. Li Wen Liang. I didn’t take the message seriously, but my friend told me that she started to wear masks in crowded places since then, and she was very sad when the Dr. Li died on February 6 due to COVID-19.

I picked up a colleague from Wuhan at the airport on January 8. We had dinner together with other friends. Now I know that two of her close colleagues are patients (both of them already recovered in the shelter hospital), and fortunately, she is ok and we are all ok.

I went back home on January 21, two days before the Lunar New Year’s Eve. Media started to report more about the disease, especially from the Academician Zhong Nan Shan, who said that this disease “surely is infectious between people.” So I got a N95 mask. I stored plenty of them because I use it during smog days in Beijing. It’s a 7-hour train ride, every passenger wears at least a surgical mask.

The time I grasped the seriousness of the situation was January 23, when the government lockdown in Wuhan went into effect, and especially after the flood of posts on Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) showing the crowds in Wuhan hospitals and devastated medical workers (as you see in Italy now).

Lunar New Year is the only time when families in China get together. I barely persuaded my father to ask his cousins not to visit us this year, and most Chinese families did the same. The national and local media started to report on cases where people were infected by relatives during parties. The younger generation also persuaded their elders in WeChat family groups. I use social media more frequently than usual; there are so many sad news/posts every day, the peak of which was about the death of Dr. Li. People were furious about the fact that he received a warning from police because he was spreading “rumors.” Most of the news has been censored since then.

I quarantined with my parents for almost one month. At first it was not that strict. We could take a walk every night after dinner avoiding crowds. Slowly, the quarantine policy became more and more strict. Since February 13, the government blocked all paths to my parents’ block, leaving only one path. Every family got one Pass Ticket, and each family can send a person to shop every two days.

We are a small city in the south of China, about 600 km from Wuhan. In total we had 39 infected, all from or infected by people who traveled to Hubei. The government has a very strong ability to track people, and neighbors will also report to the government if they know anyone who comes back from Hubei. All patients in my city recovered, the last one was on March 7.
I went back to work on February 18. Since I understand the contagious power of the virus, I didn’t drink or eat on board the train for eight hours. I also quarantined myself for 14 days in Shanghai although it is not mandatory anymore. I went back to the office on March 8. Life is returning to normal during these two weeks. My parents told me that the barriers on their block have been removed.

Because I do not trust official news that much, I also searched overseas media coverage during quarantine days. I remember clearly the CDC said in the beginning of February that “the U.S. has a very low risk of epidemic of COVID-19.” Now, I think these were very misleading messages. I hope all my foreign friends can stay at home in this hard time, not only for yourself but also for the community.

Last, but not least, I want an explanation regarding the outbreak in Wuhan and its mishandling in the early days.

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