News of the coronavirus outbreak has caused much alarm for South Africans and those living and working in China. Capetonians are also nervous about the presence of the virus, as there are several confirmed cases on the African continent – neighbouring Botswana confirmed five cases on Monday, February 3.

Shelley Pryde (26) from Cape Town has been living and working in China for eight months and is concerned about the outbreak. Although she lives in Shanghai, 838km away from the infection epicentre of the virus, the worry is very real and scary.

“People are scared and talking about it all day in my WeChat groups. They share news and advice to keep healthy, but everyone is trying to maintain some level of calm,” she said. “The streets are very quiet in comparison to normal.

“Everything is very uncertain right now so I think tensions are high but everyone is waiting for further news. Most of us have been instructed by our employers to stay home. Next week we begin working online instead of physically going into the office. Employers are working very hard to try and come up with solutions to maintain things while also protecting employee health,” Pryde said.

Shelley Pryde was visiting the nearby city of Harbin when she first heard the news of the coronavirus (Source: Shelley Pryde/Instagram)

To date, there have been 193 confirmed cases in Shanghai, according to Bloomberg News. Throughout the world, there have been 17 390 cases reported and 362 deaths thus far.

A map from Bloomberg News showing the number of cases in Shanghai.

According to Pryde, every day the numbers grow, which is alarming, but in reality, her day-to-day is mundane.

“I’m just in my apartment reading and studying and cleaning and liasing with my co-workers about plans for next week. The virus is serious, yes, and people are scared. But people are also using this as an excuse to let loose a bunch of anti-Chinese racism. I’ve seen pictures of stores and restaurants in other countries where friends are currently traveling that have signs up saying they do not serve Chinese customers,” she said.

Her support has come in the form of South African expats in China. “A lot of us are in a WeChat group together. You know what South Africans are like, we respond to tough situations with humour. People have been sending jokes and making funny videos. And also drinking beer,” she said. “A couple of people have spoken about resigning and going back home but most people are just waiting patiently, sharing jokes and advice.”

Many restaurants in Shanghai have now put screening measures in place for customers as they enter, and a form needs to be filled out that states what their temperature is before they can be seated.

Pryde and her friend go to pick up their food in masks for added protection (Source: Shelley Pryde/Instagram)

Even the entrance to my apartment complex, the security guard records the details of delivery guys or strangers who want to enter and takes their temperature. In Shanghai, an eBike company has offered to give people free use of eBikes to avoid crowded public transport. Everyone is wearing masks. There are public transport limitations, cancellation of big events, huge store closures, etc. In Shanghai, most public transport is still running except for long-distance buses and some trains. All tourist destinations or places that attract large crowds have been closed. It feels like everything is paused,” she said.

In South Africa, 14 suspected cases have been probed in the last 24 hours, but the test results are yet to come back as they have a 48-hour turnaround time. Botswana’s confirmed cases have South Africans concerned.

“The five cases were picked up at different times and are isolated at a designated health facility while awaiting laboratory results. The specimen has been sent to the regional reference laboratory in South Africa. All five suspected cases arrived at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport from China on different flights,” Botswana Health and Wellness Ministry spokesperson Doreen Motshegwa said in a statement.

Pryde is hopeful that the coronavirus will be contained soon, and that she will be able to continue living in Shanghai. “My eventual goal has been to do my masters here in something art-related, but in Chinese. I really hope I can still do that.”


Article written by

Lucinda Dordley

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She is a proud intersectional feminist, and is passionate about actively creating a world which is free of discrimination and inequality.