‘I had to quarantine alone for a month’: This is how one Leeds student spent his lockdown in China

“I isolated in a hotel room, but loads of my mates were taken to hospital”

I am Franks Feng, a student at Leeds just about to start my third year. The differences between the UK and China’s handling of the virus are stark, and this was clear to see when I had to quarantine alone for 28 days straight in one room.

I am lucky. When the virus outbreak became serious in China, I was studying at Leeds. However, before UK lockdown began, I got a flight back home to avoid being stuck in the UK.

I isolated for a month when I got to China and some of my friends went to hospital, as quarantine is less lenient than the UK

Since I was travelling back from UK to Hong Kong, while the situation in China was already becoming normal again, all study abroad students were treated with caution in case we were infected. All of us had to quarantine for 14 days before going back home. I lived in a hotel room alone for 28 days (the first two weeks in HK and another two weeks in Shenzhen). It felt terrible because I couldn’t go out at all. Food was put outside my door, and I needed to test my temperature three times a day. I wasn’t allowed the air conditioning on, either, which wasn’t great fun as Asia is actually quite warm.

This is the hotel room I isolated in for 14 days

Staying alone in a room was terrifying, especially as most of my friends were taken to hospital as there were cases reported on the flights they were on. Most international students needed to decided whether stay in UK during pandemic or go back to their home countries, leaving stuff in their accommodation. Even if we decided to leave, it was really tough to get a flight. Then during the flight you were worried other passengers could infect you. As students, it was a terrible experience for us as we needed to get used to time difference for online lectures and exams.

I spent most of my time reading, watching movies, and talking with friends on the phone. Your parents were allowed to send you stuff so I asked for yoga mat to exercise everyday. Unlike in the UK, the doctor kept in touch with me frequently to make sure my mental health was doing okay. They provided daily meal for us in the hotel, but usually the portions were too small for me so I’d ask my friends to bring me snacks.

In the UK some people were so lucky to enjoy quarantining with sunshine in the backyard with their parents. But I didn’t complain too much. If we refused to quarantine, it could have resulted in even longer lockdowns for other cities.

My parents would bring food to my hotel

Things are almost back to normal in China, which is a good sign for the UK

In China everything is mostly back to normal. The only difference is that we need to wear masks and take temperature tests before we get into any indoor places like the subway, shopping centre, or office. The bars have reopened but people are scared of the virus, so I haven’t seen a lot of people out drinking. Shopping centres and public traffic are busy again, but people still prefer to order take away than sit in restaurants.

Still, in China people usually trust the government and the policies they made to ensure everything can be conducted effectively. Even if people disagree with some policies, they tend to follow it first before politely criticising it online which usually urges the government to make a change. In China, people think more about collective society as priority.

UK and Chinese governments have dealt with the pandemic differently because the cultures are so different

There is a clear difference in government and citizen response to the virus in the two countries. I think it is hard to say which one is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as a result of different cultural, economic situations. However, most of the Asian countries experienced SARS in 2003, which helped them to be more prepared for life during a pandemic. The Chinese government treated it seriously even if it meant pausing the economy. Face identification and health codes were critiqued by Western media as a threat to public privacy. Still, in China people prefer to ‘sacrifice’ themselves for the collective. For example, to build a hospital in a few days, lock down without time to prepare, and do whatever it takes in order to let all of us back to normal life sooner with as few people dying as possible.

The UK government could not come out with such strict rules at the beginning probably because there were lots of thing to consider, since public opinions are varied. For instance, some people were worried about domestic abuse during quarantine, and individual mental health issues.

Everyone wore a mask whilst outside

The pandemic highlights social issues in different counties

To be honest, I felt sad when I witnessed the virus unfold abroad. During the pandemic there is more political conflict happening; governments blame each other and Asian students experienced a lot of racism. I think the pandemic has caused people to think more about structural issues in society, while in ordinary times people were more likely to focus on working and ignore it.

I really hope different countries have a more open attitude towards each other after the pandemic is over. For example, when Covid-19 was serious in China, other countries should have built a closer connection with China. Lots of countries didn’t take it seriously and that’s why it has taken us so much time to recover. It is interesting to see different countries come out with different solutions individually, based on their own circumstances. There is no ‘typical answers’ for each country to follow in order to win the battle with Covid-19.

Life looked very different to what I was used to at home