Q&A: An Insider’s Perspective on COVID-19


Photo courtesy of BBC.

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Wuhan residents were instructed to self-quarantine, contributing to the desolate environment pictured above.

Sophie Maxwell, Staff writer

The following article is the second in a series about the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. Other articles in the series can be found here.

For this question and answer session, The Blue & Gold corresponded with an international college student from China who was able to share a new perspective on the coronavirus cases. The responses from the student were received on March 6, meaning some logistical information may be out of date.

For safety reasons, the student wishes to remain anonymous and will be referred to solely as ‘Interviewee.’ Per the interviewee’s request, responses have been edited slightly for grammatical clarity.


THE BLUE & GOLD:  How do you feel about the coronavirus? Is it being taken too seriously? Not seriously enough?

INTERVIEWEE:  For the virus itself, I would like to say that it’s very tricky and hard to treat. According to epidemiological investigations in China, COVID-19 is much more infectious than SARS which happened in 2003 but with a lower mortality rate. Specifically, the incubation period can be up to 14 days.

Also, it seems that we are still lacking in fast, accurate testing methods. Now the nucleic acid detection is the most common technique to diagnose coronavirus, however, it’s still not accurate enough. Even negative patients may show the symptoms of infection. Now, in China, patients usually need to be tested at least 3-4 times, including other detection techniques (like CT scanning), before being confirmed as infected or cured. These features make coronavirus very easy to spread in the communities.

In terms of harmfulness, most of the patients show only mild symptoms, and they can recover by their own immune systems. However, lots of cases showed that if they are not treated in the early stage, they can become more severe within a short time. Those severe symptoms can be fatal, especially to the elderly. As there is still no effective remedy and vaccine so far, I would say it’s not the time to say we are taking coronavirus too seriously. Although the spread is currently not serious in Georgia, it still has the possibility to be more dangerous. We should not be panicked right now, but we also should not look down on coronavirus.


Have you been treated differently because of where the virus originated?

In terms of myself, I haven’t felt any difference so far. Most people here are kind and friendly. However, it has been reported that some Asians were insulted or even attacked due to the virus. One of my friends, who is a student in Amsterdam, told me that she was mocked by a group of teenagers just because she was wearing a mask in the supermarket.

I don’t think it’s fair to blame a certain group of people just because the first case was from their country. A virus is the enemy of all of humanity, and all humans are victims, no matter their race or nationality. We should unite together and fight against the virus together.


Do you know anyone personally that has been affected?

I would say that everyone in China has been affected by this virus. Although none of my friends or relatives are infected by the virus, all of them are indirectly affected by it.

One thing most of you might not know is that the outbreak started only several days before Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year), which is the most important day for all the Chinese, just like Christmas in the US. Because it is a one-week federal holiday, people will go back to their hometowns, travel and celebrate it. However, due to the virus, people had to cancel most of their plans and stay at home.


How has the virus changed daily life in China?

Like what I stated in the last question, the traditional holiday was ruined by virus. People don’t have many outdoor activities even with a mask. Movie theaters, shopping malls and restaurants are basically all shut down. Some people have to get used to working and studying from home. People still go about their normal life, but it is a little bit boring.

But people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are facing the risk of lack of drugs, especially in Wuhan where certain people are not allowed to leave their communities. I learned from a news report that a special delivery service was helping them out of the toughest time, and the situation also drew the local government’s attention. The delivery guys were gathering drugs for these patients, and the government also urged medical insurance departments to streamline the process. 


Has anyone you know had to be relocated?

No, only people who are confirmed to be infected or suspiciously infected in Wuhan have to be relocated and isolated in the hospital. Normal people just need to stay home. None of my friends or relatives have been relocated.


Is food in China still readily available or is it diminishing?

As far as I know, food is still sufficient and available. Even in the toughest period, when almost all the public places (like schools, offices and factories) were shut down, the supermarkets remained open. People were able to purchase vegetables, fruits, etc. from the supermarkets at a regular price. Most of the restaurants canceled eat-in services but switched to delivery. The Chinese government also has released emergency material storage, like tons of frozen pork. Therefore, I would say food is sufficient and will not be an issue for most people.

However, access to food might be different in very serious places like Wuhan, as people are blocked in their own house. From what I’ve heard, there will be volunteers in each community that help residents purchase and distribute the food they need. And in some other communities, each family can send one member to go out and purchase food. Also, those provinces with advanced agricultural industries, such as Shandong and Sichuan provinces, donated vegetables, meat and fruits to the Hubei province (where 95% of the infected people in China are).


How has the virus affected the Chinese economy?

It’s no doubt that coronavirus had a big negative effect on the Chinese economy. As I mentioned before, the outbreak started at the beginning of the federal holiday. The virus seriously damaged the entertainment, tourism and catering industries. The date of returning to work was also postponed by the Chinese government, and the whole country experienced a week lockout. In the first batch of returning to work in early February, most companies chose to work remotely, but labor-intensive manufacturing industries were still limited.

Especially Wuhan has shut down since January 23 and suffered more economic loss than any other city in China. Also, because the Chinese government paid all the costs for those who got infected or suspiciously infected, it’s a big expenditure for the government. As a ‘global factory,’ China’s lockout also decreased the resilience of the global economy. You might notice that the US stocks have been undergoing one of the most rapid drop rates in the past few weeks.


Do you think the virus will make a big appearance in Georgia? How do you think we should best prepare?

I really hope not. But to be honest, it’s hard to tell. The bad news is that this virus is really tricky and easy to spread. As I mentioned in the first question, the incubation period of coronavirus could be up to around 14 days, which means you can be a carrier of the virus but without symptoms. Therefore, if one person is confirmed to be infected, all the people he or she met in the past two weeks will also run the risk of being infected.

We should also notice that there is no specific remedy to treat diseases caused by coronavirus. It can be fatal, especially to the elderly (as the outbreak in King County, WA). The lesson is, if the virus starts to spread in the community, the number of infected cases can grow exponentially. Take Wuhan as an example, there were only tens of new cases per day in the first week after the outbreak, but after two weeks, it turned to over two thousand infections per day.

If you keep an eye on the progress of infection cases over the world, you will find that the outbreak has already started in other countries like South Korea, Italy and Iran. The daily increasing number in these countries is also rapidly growing. Hence, I think we should never underestimate the risk of coronavirus.

However, it is good news that the population here is not as dense as in east Asian countries. People here are also less dependent on public transportation, so the spread rate might be slower. Besides, as long as you got treated in time, the death rate of the virus is not high for young people. I don’t think we need to be panicking at this stage since there are only two cases in Georgia. However, again, never underestimate it. Coronavirus is definitely more serious than a regular flu. My suggestion is to follow the CDC’s suggestions strictly and also get enough rest, because the weaker you are, the more easily you will be infected. If the cases started to increase in Georgia, avoid going to crowded places and use disinfectants with more frequency. If the outbreak starts in Georgia, I believe the government will give further instructions, and maybe schools will shut down.


What do you know about China’s quarantine system? Has it been effective?

Every part of China’s quarantine system fulfilled its own responsibility. The Chinese CDC isolated the virus within a month after continuous appearance cases in Wuhan, acknowledged by WHO, and government made strict policies to respond the crisis; the Chinese government took advantage of its public healthcare system to coordinate medicine materials and build up a national medical team with cumulative amount over 40 thousand medical workers (by March 1) as a great support for worst-hit regions like Wuhan; and communities took their responsibility to publicize the coronavirus and distribute facial masks at regular price (at least in Shanghai as far as I know).

In Wuhan, two 1000-bed hospitals were constructed in 10 days to treat those severe patients. Some public buildings like exhibition halls and stadiums were reconstructed as “square cabin” hospitals, which served as the place isolating and treating mild patients. For those who lived in these hospitals, the government covered all the expenses in terms of medical and food. Other normal people in Wuhan have to stay at home and report their body temperatures every day.

From the result of China’s public data and related reports, I can say China’s quarantine system is quite effective. Now over 95% of confirmed cases are in Hubei Province (where Wuhan city lies), indicating the situation is under control and won’t turn into a nationwide spread. And even the situation in Hubei province is getting much better than at the beginning, as the daily increasing number is over 100 now while it was over 2000 two weeks ago. 


What do you think about the Chinese government’s response to the coronavirus?

Overall, I think the Chinese government is doing a great job in terms of controlling the nationwide spreading after the outbreak in Wuhan. At the expense of sacrificing the economy, the Chinese government controlled the situation well within quite a short amount of time if considering infectiousness. Now, the ratio of returning to work in the top 500 manufacturing companies in China is 97% by February 28 with approximately 60% capacity utilization. Chinese government’s response was on time and effective enough. Life for people outside Hubei province is gradually returning to normal.

But it’s still hard to judge the efficiency of the government’s response as a whole. China’s central government responded just after epidemic situation was confirmed, while in the very beginning, the government of Wuhan city didn’t take the virus seriously. The first case in Wuhan was actually identified in December 2019, but almost no action was taken until January 21, 2020, when the investigation group from the central government confirmed that the coronavirus is highly infectious. People were told, “the virus is controllable and preventable. It’s not necessary to panic” before that day.

However, it turned out that the virus was definitely not controllable at that stage, and people ended up being panicked and it was chaotic. Wuhan and other cities in Hubei Province were then blocked from January 23. After that, the central government took over the management of the medical system in Hubei province and the strict quarantine system was set up.

The quarantine system in China might be controversial because it did affect people’s daily life. However, the dilemma is that, if no action was taken, it’s inevitable that a much more severe tragedy would happen. Therefore, from what my friends and I have heard, most people support and recognize the actions taken by the government. However, almost all Chinese people also believe that if the government would have alerted people and taken actions earlier, the situation would be much better than now. China definitely lost its first chance to act and the leaders of Wuhan city and Hubei Province were dismissed for neglect of duty. Also, I hope that this can be a lesson for the US government to take coronavirus seriously.


Do you have any worries that you will not be able to travel back to China?

Although the US government banned all non-US residents entering the country from China, there are still Chinese airlines traveling between the US and China. The Chinese government didn’t announce any travel ban. There will be no problem for me to travel to China. If I wanted to go back to my home in China, the only concern is that I will most probably have trouble entering the US after my trip.