Teacher Kim Ooi writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated March 17, 2020
By Kim Ooi

Teaching in China during the coronavirus outbreak

From wearing face masks to battling boredom in locked-down cities, the coronavirus has changed the way we live in China.

While I’m one of the lucky ones who hasn’t been infected by this contagious disease, it’s still had an impact on me personally.

Here are eight ways the coronavirus has affected my life as a teacher in China.

1. Face masks

People wearing face masks in the street is a common aspect of life in China.

Pollution is a known problem here and it’s only natural for the locals to want to protect themselves.

In the six years that I’ve lived and taught in China, I’ve never worn a face mask – until now, that is.

Two Chinese men wearing face masks due to coronavirus

You'll see people wearing masks on the street.

As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, I’ve been wearing a face mask whenever I go out.

However, there has also been a great increase in the demand for face masks. It’s difficult to find any in stock.

I’m going to really look after mine!

2. Medication

The other day when I went to the pharmacy in the Auchan Shopping Mall in Zhenjiang (where I live), I noticed that half of the shelves were empty.

If I were to have any ailments in the near future, I might have a problem getting access to medicine.

This is pretty worrying.

Pharmacy in China sold out of face masks

This pharmacy sold out of face masks and alcohol wipes.

I’m considering buying some essential items online and having them sent to me.


3. Extended school holidays

School holidays were extended for a few weeks to keep students apart and thus prevent the disease from spreading.

Finding things to do with my time was challenging given all the travel and movement restrictions.

School's officially back now, but only in an online teaching capacity.

Surprisingly, the students seem more enthusiastic and eager to speak up in an online class, rather than a face-to-face one!

My students have been told to return to school in April.

4. Increased security at school campuses

Most school gates in China are manned by security personnel.

However, pedestrians are usually allowed to enter and exit the campus unchallenged.

Foreign teachers at my university now have to show their school ID card to security personnel as well as sign in and out whenever they enter or leave their apartment.

Chinese security guard monitoring movement of people

Signing in and out of apartment blocks is the new normal.

Teachers who are currently abroad and students who went back home (for the winter break) have been prohibited from returning to the university until the situation improves.

5. Increased loneliness

Foreign teachers have been advised to stay in their apartments and avoid going out as much as possible.

Large social gatherings are banned so that means no English Corners or hanging out with anyone.

This has made me feel lonelier than usual.


At my university, foreign teachers can only leave the campus once a week and must be back within two hours. 

You need to join some kind of health app to board a bus or enter the shopping malls. However, the app will only accept Chinese ID cards and not passports.

This means foreigners can't take public transport or go to the cinema (most are within malls).

Even VPNs in China are becoming increasingly iffy as China tries to prevent any news that might damage their reputation from leaking out.

6. Public transport

Trains in China are normally quite full.

However, earlier this year (before the lockdown got serious) on a return trip to Hangzhou, the train carriage that I was in was completely empty.

Empty train in China due to coronavirus

An empty train in China.

These are cities that are hundreds of kilometers away from Wuhan and ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak.

There are restrictions on other modes of transport too.

For instance, one of the places that I visited during the winter break was Harbin. On the day that I was due to fly there, the airport bus from Zhenjiang to Nanjing wasn’t running.

Some of my colleagues who have gone home for vacation have expressed concerns that they may not be able to return to China due to a lack of flights.

7. Health screening at airports

Security has been greatly tightened at all airports.

Security personnel in protective clothing ‘shoot’ every passenger with a temperature gun. If you have a fever, you’re barred from travelling.

Health screening at Harbin Airport

Health screening at Harbin Airport.

When I entered the airport in Harbin to fly back to Zhenjiang, I was told that my body temperature was too low.

I had to wait a few minutes indoors for my body temperature to return to normal before being allowed inside the departure lounge.

8. Closed attractions

During my winter vacation, one of the attractions I’d been hoping to see was the Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin.

However, my tour guide informed me that it wouldn’t be possible for me to visit the park because it was closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Siberian Tiger Park in winter

The Siberian Tiger Park was closed due to coronavirus.

I was actually very lucky though.

On the day I flew back to Zhenjiang, my tour guide told me that every single attraction that I got to see in Harbin was now closed.

If I’d gone there just one day later, I’d have had a very expensive, wasted journey.

How has the coronavirus affected local Chinese people?

Sadly, thousands of Chinese people have died from this contagious disease.

But for everyone else, how has the coronavirus affected their lives?

My former Mandarin teacher from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, describes her life in China as ‘boring’.

In Wuhan, residents are forbidden to leave their homes. One of my teacher’s concerns is that her food will run out.

My Chinese girlfriend, currently in Guizhou (southwest China) with her family, has had the same experience.

When I asked her how she spends her days, her reply was “eating and sleeping, sleeping and eating, can’t go out”.

The locals are also dealing with ‘fake news’ circulating on social media.

China’s internet watchdog has closed down some WeChat groups and detained people who are accused of distributing false information.

Advice given by my school about coronavirus

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, my university issued some advice to teachers.

Most of it is common sense and can be summarized as follows:

  • Pay close attention to personal hygiene
  • Wear a face mask at all times while outdoors
  • Avoid all social contact unless absolutely necessary
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you develop any possible coronavirus symptoms.

The lessons that China learnt dealing with SARS in 2003 has made the country well-equipped to deal with the current crisis.

I’m taking the precautions outlined above and I know that I’ll be OK.

Stay safe!

How has the coronavirus affected your life as a teacher in China? Share your story below.

Stay up to date with the latest news about coronavirus here.

This article was originally published on The Helpful Panda. Read the original article.

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