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‘I Feel Quite Safe’: An Egyptian in China and Her Personal Account of the Coronavirus Outbreak

February 1, 2020
Basma Osama receiving her Master’s at Ningxia University. Credit: Basma Osama

Living in the region of Ningxia in Northwestern China since 2013, Basma Osama is a 28-year old teacher and student at the Ningxia University, where she is completing her PhD degree in Anthropology.

After graduating from Suez Canal University in 2013 from the Chinese Language Department, she traveled to China to complete her Master’s degree in teaching the Chinese language for foreigners.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, which saw all of China’s cities go under intense lockdown, she has been locked inside the university’s campus. Basma shares her own account of the events with Egyptian Streets below.

Early January

Before the Lunar New Year, the coronavirus wasn’t that well known. We knew there was a virus, but we didn’t know how contagious it was, so people went on their daily lives and travels as usual with little trouble.

Everyone had already bought all their necessary food items and shopping lists from the supermarket because all the shops and restaurants close during the holidays.

None of us were really scared or panicked. It was just like, ‘Oh, there’s a virus, we have to be careful’ and that’s all. There were probably only around 2 cases in my area.

Mid January (26-27)

Suddenly, we started to hear that the coronavirus is spreading quickly because of the holiday season and all the traveling, especially from our friends in Beijing and Wuhan in particular.

At the very beginning they told us to wear a face mask, and to always remain clean and use sanitizers.

Then we were told to not go out at all. If I move inside my own building, they check my temperature and I have to be wearing a face mask and take all prevention measures with me.

If I use my car, they would then spray some kind of sterilizer inside it and also around the wheels.

When you enter the building once again, they spray on your jacket and shoes and everything, and then around the entire building. No visitors are allowed.

For those that need anything from the supermarket or anything else necessary to buy, they ask us online around two times a week of what we need and then they deliver it to us directly.

It gets quite lonely and dull since we aren’t allowed to go anywhere, and even though there is another Egyptian girl in my building, we don’t see each other much because everyone is trapped inside their own room.

Late January

A lot of people are telling me that it is better to get back to Egypt, but – as Basma – I actually feel quite safe.

It almost feels like we are a community fighting the virus together, and if one of us gets hit by the virus, then it feels like we are all hit. No one is treated differently because of where they are from, or whether they are Chinese or not. They treat us all the same.

A couple of days ago, EgyptAir released a statement that it is canceling all flights to and from China starting February 4th.

This is when the fear started to really kick in, because I was unsure if I will ever be able to return to Egypt and how long this could last.

I wasn’t planning to return, but the fact that the flights are cancelled for a certain unknown period made me feel more scared and unsure of what I should do.

If I choose to travel and return back home, there is probably a higher chance that I could get hit by the virus during the journey. So what should I do?

We all feel like we are carrying a huge responsibility to not transmit the virus to Egypt, and that’s why many of us are choosing to stay.

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