Virginia Song
Lead Assessor, ELEVATE

Published: 13 February 2020

Published: 13 February 2020

Virginia Song - Lead Assessor, ELEVATE

My View from Wuhan

An ELEVATE social auditor shares her story of life in Wuhan during the coronavirus outbreak

中文阅读  |  View in Chinese

In 2020, I have begun to think about a thousand ways to start a new life.

On the first day of Chinese New Year, I made an appointment with my friends in Shenzhen. I wanted to forget about the worries and anxieties of 2019 and live more freely. I had finished last year’s work, was waiting for the ELEVATE annual dinner, and counting down the days before I could return to my hometown of Wuhan.

As I dragged my luggage and rushed out of Wuhan Railway Station with a hopeful heart, I never expected that the whole city of Wuhan would be shrouded in the haze of coronavirus a week later.

The “three towns of Wuhan” spanning two rivers closed instantly. Household doors were shut. The bustling streets lost their vibrant color as they grew quiet and empty.

Everyone had happily welcomed 2020, but we had not even gone through one-tenth of the year yet. We had already witnessed the Australian bush fires and the conflict between the United States and Iran. The new year robbed us of Kobe Bryant and allowed the virus to sweep through our lives.

I don’t know if in the future we will be able to talk easily about the current affairs of 2020, which have been imprinted on everyone’s heart.

The cunning virus is rampant but silent

By the end of December 2019, discussions about an “unknown cause of pneumonia in Wuhan” cropped up on the internet. I called my mom and she said, “The seafood market is in Hankou, very close to your uncle’s house. Nothing is moving on our side.”

In mid-January, cases of a “new type of coronavirus pneumonia” had been detected in Thailand and Japan, one after another. It is strange that these people all actually had Wuhan travel history. The masses began to feel unsettled, but according to official media reports, the situation was still under control.

Until…Shanghai, Beijing, Zhejiang, Shenzhen…suspected cases were breaking out, and all these patients had visited Wuhan.

This amazing similarity and the speed of transmission have continuously attracted the attention of the media. A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially responded to “new type of coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan.”

In those days in mid-January, many colleagues and friends from other provinces asked me, “Have you returned home, are you okay?”

And local friends still joked then with pictures in our WeChat group: “The whole country thinks that Wuhan is an epidemic area, Wuhan thinks that Hankou is an epidemic area. However, Hankou people are happily buying special goods for the Spring Festival and eating New Year’s Eve food. They are so busy that they run out of time to talk with you.”

Photo credit: Sina Weibo

On January 20th, 2020, 217 cases of the coronavirus had been diagnosed nationwide. On this day, renowned respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan confirmed that the coronavirus can be transmitted from human to human.

Around this time, a large wave of news reports came rolling in. The topic of “novel coronavirus” instantly occupied Weibo. The circle of friends on social media shared constantly about pneumonia prevention and control and popular science posts. To this day, there is no respite.

Slowly, the term “epidemic” appeared in the morning and evening news on TV. Since the 20th of January, people started becoming alert and flustered, but in January the optimistic Wuhan people still don’t know what kind of storm they are facing.

There are more and more pedestrians wearing masks on the road, and gradually motorists vacate the streets.

Photo source:

In this way, we watched the situation grow worse and worse in January. In this way, the “novel coronavirus pneumonia” became the “Wuhan pneumonia”. Overnight, the word “Wuhan” began to be synonymous with “contagion” and people across the country could not avoid it. I never thought that this city I am so proud of would one day be subject to “regional discrimination”.

On January 23rd, Wuhan officially announced that the city is in lock down. City buses, the metro and all external access routes are closed.

“Staying in Wuhan and living at home” is not only a means for Wuhan people to protect themselves. It is a societal responsibility too. That day, we drove out with masks and ordered food. A grey sky loomed, and no one was on the road.

A big city of 10 million people seemed to be drained of its soul

There are no crowded scenes of the past, we no longer hear the owners of the street breakfast stalls shouting “add a bowl of rice wine.”

Photo source Sina Weibo:

Jianghan Road Pedestrian Street, the famous century-old commercial street in Wuhan, that has been so crowded in the past, has fallen into endless silence. The whole city seems to have been pressed with the pause button.

I wanted to say hello to a friend, who had returned for barbecue food that is only available in Wuhan, but the only time we met was so that I could give her a sold-out N95 mask.

For the first time, I felt that uncongested Wuhan was not attractive at all

In this way, we started a life of self-isolation, yet we paid close attention to the changing conditions outside.

As we opened our eyes every day, the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus doubled everywhere.

The epidemic is spreading like a runaway artist’s brush, frantically painting the entire China map. It seems that closing the city is not enough.  Humans now have to pay the price for their actions.

Throughout the Spring Festival period (January 25th – February 8th), the TV no longer broadcasts humorous shows and celebrations. TV viewing is now filled with special interviews about the coronavirus and epidemic tracking.

As I watched TV on January 25th, the Wuhan-based journalist started to report from the front lines. As he gazed at the Yangtze River Bridge, formerly brightly lit but now darkened and empty, he couldn’t help breaking down in front of the camera. He wept “… My hometown, my Wuhan will recover soon! Wuhan, come on!”

I felt uncomfortable in my heart. My mother, watching TV beside me, secretly wiped her tears away.

Every day, new information explodes around us. Every day, I switch back and forth between anxiety, anger, helplessness, hope, distress, and the entire range of emotions.

I don’t want any more news of low supplies, no more words that hurt each other, no more scenes of families falling apart. People are desperate and in pain, yet there is nothing I can do about it.

But I have always been deeply moved by those who devote themselves without hesitating to the battle against the virus

People are suffering from great difficulties, yet they thankfully receive warm help from strangers in society.

Picture from Netease Cloud Music “Wuhan Come on”

On the other hand, social media and online sharing are beginning to show unprecedented strength. Social media has become a baton for transmitting information and positive energy. It has also inadvertently become a channel for misleading public opinion.

On certain topics related to the coronavirus, all the comments substantiating the truth have been drowned out by the critical and abusive comments. Some people are prepared to wall themselves off in a radical way.

No one would ever wish to be infected, and no one would intentionally spread the virus to others. Yet the verbal abuse, all too easy to spread, has scored more victims more quickly than the virus.

I feel powerless. I can’t understand why those who have just announced “Wuhan come on!” can then go to a neighbor’s door to expel people with suspected illness, shouting “Get out of here!”. It highlights the differences between people.

And I can’t change anything. I can only selectively ignore some of the noise.

Picture from Sanlian Life Weekly, Photo by Cai Xiao Chuan

More recently I have been concentrating on doing my own thing, learning, and sharing interesting stories with my friends. I have started to consider how I would spend this special year of 2020 after this epidemic is over. There are still many people who want to do wonderful things and cherish life.

This is how I am experiencing my life every day, right now

Treasure every single day with your family.

Life in the city is also changing daily. Travel has been upgraded from simple masks to being fully armed: Masks, protective goggles, disposable raincoats, and shoe covers are standard.

Avoid touching the buttons directly in the elevator. In the elevator, use paper towels or carry a pen with a lid.

Photo credit: Ccindy Feng

When you go out to buy food and daily necessities, the first thing you must do is spray disinfectant on everything.

Picture from Wechat Circle Yangli

These are days without sunshine, and I continually wake to news reports about the epidemic. And at nighttime, I sleep in prayer, day after day. We are adapting to our new lifestyle, even if it is boring, tedious and frightening.

The brave nurse who said ‘I will go! I am not married and have no children to take care of’; the husband, being extremely anxious about his wife, said tearfully ‘You have to come back safe…I will take good care of you and our family!’; and the soldiers who left their families on Chinese New Year’s Eve to fight the virus outbreak…

Many people use their inner warmth and resolve to fight the epidemic and they write about a love for this land. There is no home without a country.

Source: Anonymous photo on internet. No photographer cited.

Heroes always face the most challenging circumstances head on. Being cautious is human instinct, but it is the call of humanity to rush to the front line. The phrase “When I put on my white coat, I must play my role well” resounded throughout the Spring Festival period, as our medical practitioners rose to the challenge.

Sitting at home right now, I know that there is not much I can do. At least protecting myself and my family is not causing much trouble to society.

Source: Anonymous photo on internet. No photographer cited.

Thank you to all the heroes who are fighting on the front line in hospitals, fighting against time and death. Thank you to all the journalists, delivery workers and everyone who quietly remains loyal to their posts – ordinary but amazing.

Wuhan – it is one of the safest cities. There are no earthquakes or tsunamis. Wuhan is a natural hub in an excellent location with superb transport connections. The mighty Yangtze – giver of life through fish and rice farming – flows through Wuhan and nine provinces throughout China. The largest urban lake in China – East Lake – is hidden in the expanse between the two rivers and three towns of Wuhan.

Every time the bell tower of Jianghanguan Custom House rings, it recalls the changes and vicissitudes of history. From the Hanyang Arsenal to the first shot of the Revolution of 1911, Wuhan “is different every day”.

The spirit of Wuhan to embrace innovation and change constantly affects every generation. We hope every generation loves this place.

We most definitely will return to the bustling scene of three months ago.

May the hope for tomorrow drive away the haze and bring more courage! Wuhan, come on!

Source: Sina Weibo. Photo by Jerry.

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