I am Kenyan, and now a PhD candidate in International Relations in Wuhan, China. I came to China in 2015. My choice of China was to understand what makes this country special that it can rise as fast as it did. I want to experience life in China rather than just studying in International Relations class. It’s important for anyone studying diplomacy to experience the culture of that particular foreign country.
After WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), I decided to stay in Wuhan. At first my family members were skeptical of my choice. They wanted me to go back home, so did my friends. I even disabled my social media platforms because of too many messages about asking why I chose not to go back. Now everyone understands and they call me to ask for information about how they can stay safe.
I kept touch with my family and had been telling them how it was put under control, in particular about the importance of isolation and minimizing movement of people. Mostly people back home are interested in how they can stay safe and this information I give helps them stay calm.
My NO.1 source of information about the pandemic has been the WHO and the government. There were a lot of sensational news out there so I chose my sources very carefully. As an International Student in China, I feel that most international students understood the measures taken to keep them safe. However, some were mentally affected from various fake news about what was happening. I advised some of them to only focus on official channels of information and leave conspiracy theories off.
During the lockdown of the Wuhan city, my biggest fear was not knowing what was going on outside on the streets. Being in my room for 24 hours and cut off from other people really was psychologically draining. The saddest thing that I found was the racism and attacks targeting people of Asian descent all over the world. That made me really sad. Meanwhile, the happiest thing for me was to see the spirit of Wuhan people. When one night, people all over Wuhan sang ‘Stay strong, Wuhan！’ in the face of the disease that had never been witnessed anywhere in the world, I knew I was not alone.
One of the biggest asset during any crisis is the level of trust that the common people have in their government. I have realized that the Chinese people have a lot of trust in their government. This helped me feel safe and trust the information on the prevention and control of the pandemic. Dr Zhong Nanshan indicated in early February that the number of new cases would rise and peak in mid-February before starting to go down…and it indeed happened. Later when the number of new cases in other provinces like Guangdong went down, I became very optimistic.
China’s experience in containing the spread of the new coronavirus could serve as a lesson for other countries now facing the COVID-19 pandemic, especially how to gradually open up the economy after the pandemic. The biggest lesson, however, in my opinion, is how to mobilize both public and private sector in times of crisis. SF cargo became very reliable in distributing medical supplies. Some restaurants delivered food free of charge to medical workers on the frontline. This shows the government, the people and the private sector coming together to fight a common enemy. This can happen if there is a mutual trust on the common goal between the government and the people/private sector.
The global economy will be affected, that is in no doubt. However, if there is one economy that has the potential to minimize the shocks from coronavirus, this will be China. First, it is gradually diversified, not just in manufacturing, but in information technology, finance and service industry. Secondly, the huge domestic market in China helps it withstand any external shocks. However, I expect exports to reduce especially since some of the export countries will not be doing well economically.
Some International students in China, including myself, participated in volunteer activities helping other students access some services – grocery delivering, serving meals etc. Some Chinese volunteers who made sure food was served to all international students throughout the pandemic, are the real heroes to me. They never missed any single delivery. The security guards, the dormitory staff were there from the beginning to the end as well. They are the unsung heroes. Without them, we couldn’t have done anything. I have learnt valuable lessons on the common good and personal sacrifice for the benefit of a better future for everyone.
During the pandemic, some western politicians or media have been politicizing certain science issues and stigmatizing China. Most of these politicians have never visited or lived in China and have negative stereotypes. This didn’t start because of the pandemic and surely may not end anytime soon. China should focus on doing the good things she is doing on the global stage. Gradually, and changes coming would be coming. Many countries will trust China and will disregard negative sentiments by some politicians.
The world need to come together with concerted efforts to share research and experience to face not only this pandemic, but also future crises. A community of shared future and prosperity can only be achieved through cooperation.