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My study life in UK amid coronavirus epidemic

By Fu Yaning (People's Daily Online)    16:49, April 21, 2020

"I never thought that quarantine would be the key word for studying abroad."

2020 is destined to be a year of history. For the whole world, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has ravaged human’s livelihood. For me, everything suddenly halted by quarantine before I can have time to experience studying abroad.

Road Sign of Harrow Hill, London (Photo/Fu Yaning)

I landed in London in January 2020, while China was suffering an increasing period of epidemic outbreak. The number of confirmed cases reported in the daily news made me worried every day. My family, teachers and classmates comforted me on the other side of the phone: "Don't worry about us, the domestic prevention and control is very efficient and we are pleased that the UK is relatively safe for you."

On February 9, 2020, British Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty announced the diagnosis of the fourth case of COVID-19 in the UK, and the first confirmed case in London. Subsequently, the number of confirmed cases in the United Kingdom rose exponentially. On April 16, confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UK exceeded 100,000, making it the sixth country with more than 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the world.

As an overseas student in the UK, I feel some anger and fear as few locals attach great importance to personal protection during the epidemic. We are afraid that wearing masks will be regarded as heterogeneous or virus carriers. Except for Chinese students who wore masks on campus in March, few students or teachers wore them. We can clearly feel the slightly uncomfortable eyes of others looking at the students wearing masks, often rushing through the crowd or going to school in groups with the students who wear them.

Wear mask to go to class in March

But in this global public health crisis, the only two parties in the ring are humans and viruses. Isn’t it?

British people make posters to show their support for NHS (National Health Service) (Photo/Fu Yaning)

Unique Walden Time

The severe epidemic broke all of my previously scheduled internship plans and travel plans, and all school lectures and activities were suspended. Booming information about returning home suddenly filled my WeChat: "The last 20 seats to return to China!" "A large number of British Airways flying to China have all been grounded!" Suddenly it seemed like you could sense the smell of disinfectant all over the world.

Beginning in mid-to-late March, British schools successively canceled offline lectures, switching to online teaching, online discussions and homework submissions, without delaying or affecting the learning and graduation progress of most international students.

British supermarkets like Sainsbury, Tesco, Morrison, etc., all support online shopping, but the huge demand for delivery due to the lockdown, resulted in people need to wait in queue to enter the webpage for half an hour to an hour, getting a delivery quota is another battle of internet speed.

Online supermarket delivery materials (Photo/Fu Yaning)

Offline supermarkets remain open. When the city first locked down, eggs, toilet paper, and some prepared foods were sold out, but with the introduction of special commodity restriction policies, all goods are now sufficient. Regularly we go to supermarkets with full-body protection every two weeks, as storing essentials, carrying 20 kilograms of goods and walking 3 kilometers become a rare and important outdoor activity.

To maintain the mental health of students who stay on campus, the university regularly launches online activities, such as online cinema, online cooking competitions, online table games, etc. With the Internet connecting us together, the creativity of the university staff is heartwarming.

Cooking dishes by myself (Photo/Fu Yaning)

The biggest feeling during the epidemic is that I’ve become more sensitive to all the good things around.

It is the most delightful feeling to meet a familiar friend on the road occasionally. Online museums accommodate my wish to appreciate artwork, and the books I didn’t have time to read before now accompany me all of the time, giving me a sense of fulfillment. . There are numerous things I neglected before but cherish serendipitously now!

Quarantine helps me see the beauty of loneliness, the inside spirit of great books and enough time to write my numerous papers.

Views of London during under quarantine (Photo/Fu Yaning)

Public awareness of epidemic prevention in London rises

The Queen said the UK "will succeed" in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, in a rallying message to the nation. (Screenshot/ BBC)

In March, when the outbreak just emerged in the UK, most people wearing masks on the streets of London were young students studying abroad and a few Asian faces. At the end of March, Prince Charles, the British Minister of Health and Social Security Matt Hancock and Prime Minister Boris were diagnosed one after another. During the epidemic spread, the public’s awareness of epidemic prevention has totally changed, as the UK went from the idea of “group immunization” to the recent “stay at home isolation.

People line up to enter the supermarket (Photo/Fu Yaning)

The rate of masks worn by local people on the streets of London in April was as high as 60%. At the beginning, going to supermarkets with masks would scare others, but now people will actively ask where to buy masks. After one month, British people's emphasis on epidemic prevention has increased significantly.

London is currently the hardest-hit area in UK, as their main protective measures include maintaining a social distance of 2 meters, followed by wearing a mask. Through personal investigations and interviews, I found that there are three main reasons why local people do not wear masks: masks are sold out everywhere, wearing masks will bring a feeling of breathlessness, and some people think maintaining distance and washing hands frequently is enough for daily protection.

Wembley stadium covered under twilight (Photo/ Fu Yaning)

As the weather in the UK gradually approaches summer time, is not difficult to see people exercising on lawns. Yet if more than 2 people are seen together, the police will order them to separate, upholding their strict social distance policy.

Health packs from homeland

Panic is also a spreading plague. When the epidemic broke out, many people did not have masks in their possession. When all of the places in London where you could buy masks were sold out, panic, anxiety and loneliness took hold.

On March 26, we received 500 masks from our Alma Mater, the Communication University of China. On April 10, we received a health pack issued by the Chinese Embassy in the UK.

Health pack from the Chinese Embassy in the UK (Photo/Fu Yaning)

When queuing up to receive health packs, the local students who passed by stopped and watched. I felt so proud. These materials carried the love and care of our homeland 9,000 kilometers away.

"Although you are in a foreign country at this moment, please believe that the motherland will always be your strong backing." This is a sentence at the end of the letter from the Chinese embassy in the UK to overseas students.

No cold winter lasts forever, every spring is sure to follow. The epidemic is ruthless, but the persistence and strength inherent in Chinese character have supported and inspired me during this tough time in my life.

Fu Yaning is currently studying at the University of Westminster in London, UK. 

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(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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