Why I’m Still in China Despite the Coronavirus – Opting Out


I have been living in China for coming on to six months, save a week’s trip to the UK just as news of the Coronavirus was picking up steam at the end of January. I came back right in the thick of it, flying from London to Shanghai. 

I’m sure some people think I’m mad to stay anywhere near China during this epidemic, but there’s a number of reasons I have taken no stock in the worries. 

First of all, I have a livelihood in China. Deciding not to go back to China wouldn’t just be like deciding not to go on vacation. It would mean giving up on China, possibly for good. My employers wouldn’t be keen on letting me take a break many months long. I have possessions in China that I need. I don’t like England in winter anyway, even when I’m not looking for another job. 

I am aware that the British Foreign Office has officially recommended that, “British citizens in China should leave the country if they can.” I’m officially stating that “I cannot.” I live here now. For what do I gain by going back? It’s like telling you to leave your home country.

To the people who know nothing about what’s going on insisting that we leave: have a day off. Firstly, learn something about the real situation. Then, once you’ve set up a life here, with the apartment, job, insurance and the rest, you can tell me what a straightforward decision it is to pack up and leave.

One person sent my colleague an article about the cruise ship that was quarantined in Japan along with, “Get out now. Take one of the free flights back home as soon as you can.” Seeing as we’re not on that ship, and we live thousands of miles from Wuhan where quarantined Brits are being flown back home, my colleague ignored this advice.

On the other hand, we regularly receive messages from family, friends, and acquaintances expressing their worries about the virus. This is natural and we appreciate the care and support. But we implore them not to worry.

I am not afraid of getting sick, and even if I did, I think I would come out the other end just fine.

It’s worth checking out this article by the BBC which answers some frequently asked questions regarding the virus. Such as, “Have people recovered from the virus?” The answer is an emphatic yes. Most people recover from it, some with only mild symptoms.

Many who have had the virus experience a dry cough, and a fever, and recover in a week. I had a wretched flu around New Year. If I got through that in one piece, I back myself to do it again. 

Not that I’m keen to get the virus. I’m taking all the proper precautions and maintaining good hygiene. I’m not spending too much time in public places. But I’m not lying awake at night terrified of getting sick.

The virus is of particular risk to the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes. This is a problem and why public organizations are taking it so seriously. One might say they’re slightly overdoing it, with the regular checkpoints and curfews outside of Hubei province and outside China.

I’m not going to get into the alternative theories surrounding coverups and whatnot. Some think China has every incentive to downplay the risk. I think the opposite. Governments are incentivized to exaggerate the risk so that they can present themselves as the great saviors.

But the reason why the World Health Organisation specifically designated Coronavirus as a global epidemic is not that we’re all at risk of dropping dead, but because of the infection’s wide reach, and the risk to third world countries whose health infrastructure is insufficient. 

The best way to describe life in China at the moment is boring. For the past few weeks, most shops and things to visit have been closed. We have been working from home. I’ve been watching plenty of films, and I learned how to make dumplings.  Otherwise, life goes on. We’re able to get all the essentials. Supermarkets are open. Kids play badminton in my apartment complex.

There is a huge disparity in reaction between what seems like a panic in the West and life here, which is incredibly normal. Leave? No chance.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.