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Young people of Wuhan tell their coronavirus stories
Via Instagram @coronaviruswuhan

Life under lockdown: Young people in Wuhan tell their coronavirus stories

Those in the city discuss the impact of the quarantine, the discrimination they’ve faced, and the anger on social media

On December 31 last year, Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organisation to several cases of pneumonia in the port city of Wuhan, the sprawling capital of Central China’s Hubei province. Several of those infected were said to be workers from Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which closed the following day. There was a scramble from health experts to identify the virus, as the number of those infected increased at a rapid rate. There were 40 reported cases just days after it was first encountered.

Shortly after China announced it had identified the infection, named 2019-nCoV and found to be part of the coronavirus family, it claimed its first victim: a 61-year-old man who had bought goods from the market in Wuhan. As the coronavirus spread across borders and claimed more victims – at the time of writing, it has killed 490 people in mainland China, and infected 24,500 people worldwide – scare stories gathered pace and have since reached near mythic proportions.

One conspiracy theory claims that eating bat soup would infect you, while another falsehood suggests the virus is a bioweapon that escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and that you can cure it by eating less spicy food. All have conspired to create an environment where instances of racism toward the Asian community have increased since the outbreak. 

Mountains of misinformation and fake news about the situation in China have spread unfiltered, to the point where viral coronavirus hoax videos are now blowing up on TikTok. But what is life really like right now in the city of Wuhan, which has been on lockdown since January 23? To find out, Dazed spoke to young people from the city – who are either still stranded there, or have family who are – to gain an insight into life under strict quarantine.

LIN, 27

”I work for a technology company in Wuhan. Before the city-wide lockdown, we were still hanging out as usual, but cautiously. Then my boyfriend’s mother – who works in a hospital – told us not to wander around because she knew how bad the situation is. She knew that many people were infected, but without special care and quarantine. I thought that because Wuhan is one of the top ten cities in China, and the transportation here is so important, it will never be blocked. I was very wrong – many of us can’t truly realise the severity of the disease. I guess we have never seen the streets of Wuhan like this; few people walk on the street. Everybody is so uneasy with the situation. I haven’t been out for more than a week, and I can’t stop checking my social media. Then I feel so numb about the news whether it’s real or fake.

But I’m positive. I know the city is going to recover but I still feel really sad about so many people passing away, especially in the Chinese New Year. These days I find that people on social media are so emotional and sensitive in this special time – they’re so quick to attack others or the government on (social media platform) Weibo with no evidence. So I just don’t look at this kind of news, and do something else to relieve myself.”

SAM, 27

”I was in Beijing when the virus broke out, and my first thought was that the lockdown was too late; we should have done it before January 1, because that was the best time to control the virus. It’s only when the government announces a lockdown that the people know the situation is this serious. You can’t go out casually – that’s the biggest influence on my life at the minute. All my relatives and friends are at their homes. Family-wise, we just stay indoors to do self-quarantines, and we have never been this close ever. 

Because I am now in Beijing, there isn’t racism toward people with the virus, but there is regional discrimination. The government and people on social media are all yelling not to discriminate against people from Wuhan, but since there’s no punishment for such things, people who are not from Wuhan are still discriminating against those who are. It’s happened to me – I went out with my friends to the Nanshan skiing place near Beijing, but as soon as the security saw that I have a Wuhan ID, they asked me to leave. All my friends from Wuhan have also been discriminated against. It’s difficult both for people locked down in Wuhan, and those who are outside of the city too. The hotels won’t accept us, the police’s judgement isn’t fair, and people from other regions discriminate against us. I’m a healthy man from Wuhan, but now there’s an illusion that I was sick as well.”

“The hotels won’t accept us, the police’s judgement isn’t fair, and people from other regions discriminate against us. I’m a healthy man from Wuhan, but now there’s an illusion that I was sick as well” – Sam

FAI, 24

”I was in Wuhan when the lockdown happened, because I went back for Chinese New Year. The lockdown made this New Year feel so sad – we all cancelled our gatherings and big family dinners, and could only stay at home to celebrate. At the moment, my life in Wuhan is all about my phone, my laptop, and the TV. There’s no one on the street, all the shops are closed, and we all need to pass a temperature test when entering the neighbourhood. All public transport is shut down, private cars can’t easily be driven, and you have to get a pass in order to go out. Strangely, it’s just like a long holiday for me. A lot of people in Wuhan get bored and they start doing ‘internet parties’, like video calling someone to drink together, or to play finger-guessing games. We find ways to entertain ourselves.” 

JAMIE, 24

”I’ve been living in Wuhan for 19 years now. I’m a masters student at a university in the city. Luckily we were all prepared with food during the Chinese New Year, so we don’t need to go out really. There are very few people on the street, and public transport is suspended. We stopped seeing friends and haven’t gathered with family, and now we can only stay at home waiting for the situation to go back to normal. As a student I don’t really need to worry about work. There’s no medical solution for this yet, so I don’t have much medical stock at home, but we do have some masks and alcohol swabs. I think the mood of the general public is quite stable – we believe that the government can win this war. Some stories in the media are fair, but some are deliberately making people scared. As a Chinese citizen, I do believe in the Chinese government, and I believe things will be better soon.”

CHUN, 25

”I’m currently based in Shanghai, but went back to Wuhan on January 18 to celebrate the Spring Festival. As a native, most of my family members and friends are still in Wuhan – I keep in really close contact with people there, both online and offline. I am really worried because no one can predict what will happen in the city – the real source of coronavirus might have not been found, according to science, and an efficient solution to depress the virus spreading still seems to be a puzzle. On top of this, an increasing number of people in Wuhan are suffering from psychological trauma after the outbreak.

I truly appreciate some media’s rational discussions of the coronavirus, Wuhan, and China, but some just use the outbreak to deliver geographic and racial discrimination by describing Wuhan people as weird eaters. I’m fortunate that I haven’t experienced racism myself, and several foreign friends have shown huge support to me in these past weeks, but I do hear of instances, like a recent attack towards a Chinese student in Sheffield, just because she was wearing a face mask. I would say the racial bias and implicit stereotypes have always existed, but the coronavirus outbreak is just an excuse for some to rationalise the behaviour they don’t dare to carry out normally. Shame on racism! Also shame on geographic discrimination!”