Coronavirus affects the lives of Westford citizens with family in China


Kin Cheung

Passengers wear masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus in a subway station in Hong Kong

Melanie Duronio, Staff Writer

On December 31, 2019, the coronavirus was first identified among a cluster of individuals who were originally believed to have pneumonia in China.  The disease is spread by respiratory droplets created when a person sneezes or coughs, and it is generally transferred among those in close proximity to one another. In Wuhan, a large city made up of over 11,000,000 citizens, everyone is at risk of contracting this contagious new disease with how close the residents are to one another. 

The coronavirus has become a concern not only for residents of China but for people of other countries with family and friends living there.  This rings true for a significant amount of Westford residents who have family and friends living in provinces or cities close to areas where the virus is circulating.

  Westford Academy Mandarin teacher Xi Feng is one of many with extended family living in China. Her husband’s family lives in the rural areas of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. Since the countryside has more open land than the city of Wuhan, her family is in further proximity from their friends and neighbors as opposed to the cramped living style in Wuhan, making the disease less likely to spread.

 Even though people are not at a higher risk of getting the virus, Feng remains concerned for her family members living in the city as well as the people of Wuhan.

“I have friends and relatives living in the city [Wuhan] […] and almost 20,000 people have been confirmed as infected. Almost twice that amount of people are still waiting for test results [from doctors] or they have symptoms but are unable to go to the facilities or the hospital because there are too many people that need help […] which is really sad and scary,” Feng said.

Throughout China, most provinces and cities have been placed on lockdown in order to control further dispersion of the coronavirus.  Public transportation such as bus services, subways, and trains are no longer available to those living in the city, making actions such as buying groceries or basic essentials increasingly difficult.

Since Feng’s family lives in a more rural area, the only way they can buy these items is by going into the city.  Since major cities like Wuhan are also on lockdown, this is a futile task.

“The good thing is that [my mother in law] grows some vegetables in her garden, so so far she is okay with food. But if cities keep locking down, then I think life is not going to be easy,” Feng said.    

Westford resident Chris Su has a cousin living in the city of Chongqing of Sichuan, one of the many locations that have been sealed off to delay further advancement of the disease.  

In addition, the lockdown has forced many schools to extend their spring break so that students can stay inside the shelter of their own homes. This has also been the case for many working adults across China, with Chongqing being no exception. 

“My cousin would sustain the house while her daughter, who is a college student, would take all of her classes online using sites such as Google Classroom,” Su said.

Su found himself worrying about his cousin’s lack of access to supplies. One alternative for residents of Chongqing was a ticket that allowed Su’s cousin or one of her other family members, to go outside on days to shop for groceries and other basic essentials. On days where the ticket was unusable, she ordered materials online and had them delivered to the opening gate of her neighborhood.

However, starting in late February, the Chinese government has been partially re-opening parts of specific provinces again, including Chongqing. Citizens who work have slowly been returning to their jobs since not everybody can return all at once, and those who are working again have flexible hours. Gradually, life has been returning to normal for Su’s cousin and her family as they fall back into their daily routines of preparing for work and school. 

“[My cousin] is willing to go to work every other day for now.  She loves the company she works at and her job in the human resource department,” Su stated.

With the uncertainty and instability surrounding the coronavirus, many people both inside and outside of China have been keeping a close eye on the news, including Feng and Su. One way that families have been staying regularly informed is by using an app called WeChat, which is popular in China and used to message and call others. The app has been providing regular updates on the ever-changing data, including the exact number of total confirmed cases, deaths, and people in critical condition.  

Yet in recent days, there has been a noticeable improvement in the data, showing the beginning of a dip in the number of confirmed cases 

“There’s been a lot of uncertainty and some kind of panic these past three weeks, but the confirmed cases have been declining for the last fifteen days […] so I think that things are calming down for my friends and relatives quite a bit.  But [the danger is] certainly not over yet. With schools and businesses opening back up, people are going back to work with many people, so they’re still at a huge risk,” Su said.