Guide for overseas Chinese students during COVID-19 pandemic

Li Fei
We have put together an extensive Q&A for Chinese students studying abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Li Fei

There are now more than 860,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in 180 countries. At least 42,000 people have died from the disease.

According to the Ministry of Education of the PRC, there are now 1.6 million Chinese studying overseas, 1.42 million of whom remain abroad. The good news is that China's foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said today that China will arrange flights to meet the demands of Chinese students in the UK. 

iDEALShanghai compiled a guide for those students who so far cannot come home, which may help them get through the pandemic.

Q: Many people abroad aren’t wearing masks, what should I do?

A: Whether or not to wear a mask depends on cultural habits and the perceived protective efficiency. In the United States, masks are used mainly to prevent sick people’s saliva from splashing onto others’ faces. Besides, many countries are facing a lack of protective gear, so masks are being prioritized for medical care providers.

(Source: Zhang Wenhong, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Huashan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University)

Q: Overseas countries are severely hit by novel coronavirus, should I hoard some medicine?

A: It is not recommended that you hoard a large amount of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, whose efficacy needs to be verified by further clinical trials. The best “medicine” is to drink more water and milk, eat more eggs, sleep more and not go out socialising.

(Source: Zhang Wenhong, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Huashan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University)

Q: If I get no symptoms during the 14-day quarantine period, does it mean that I am virus free?

A: At present, it is uncertain whether there is an “ultra-long incubation period”. Even if there is, it is not a common phenomenon. According to the current situation, the 14-day incubation view can remain unchanged. But at the same time, infection can't be ruled out simply because there has been no fever within 14 days, so isolation can’t be released based on symptoms alone. For isolated people, if having any physical discomfort such as cough and fever, they should report their symptoms by calling the appropriate coronavirus emergency number in their country or region.

(Source: Cai Weiping, director of the Infectious Disease Center, Guangzhou Eighth People’s Hospital)

Q: If I choose to stay abroad and not return to China, what should I pay attention to in my daily life?

A: Stay at home to avoid unnecessary exposure. Take care when going out to buy daily necessities by wearing a mask and washing your hands. Wash your hands after any contact in public areas. Eat more vegetables and fruit when staying at home and take an appropriate dose of tranquilizers when experiencing sleep problems.

(Source: Zhu Lei, chief respiratory physician, Zhongshan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University)

Q: My school has reported confirmed cases. But, unlike in China, there are no apps to find out if I have had close contact with infected people. What should I do?

A: Conduct self quarantine and live a normal life with enough sleep and nutrition. Consult a doctor if you have a fever.

(Source: Zhu Lei, chief respiratory physician, Zhongshan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University)

Q: If I have symptoms like a cough and fever, how can I judge whether or not I have contracted novel coronavirus? Should I go to hospital at once?

A: Influenza and novel coronavirus may both cause a cough and fever, making it difficult for ordinary people to distinguish between the two. About 80% of those infected with novel coronavirus have mild symptoms, and can survive without seeking medical assistance. Whether to seek medical assistance mainly depends on your breathing. If you find it difficult to breathe, or hard to breathe when going up stairs, seek medical assistance. Fever is not necessarily the decisive point of seeking medical assistance, breathing is.

(Source: Zhang Wenhong, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Huashan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University)

Q: The weather is becoming warmer, but the coronavirus does not seem to be contained by temperature like SARS was. When will the epidemic in America turn a corner?

A: The epidemic has not been effectively controlled in many areas around the globe. Europe is now the “epicenter” of the global coronavirus pandemic and the US is also badly affected. Great uncertainty still exists in the future, so currently it is difficult to predict when the pandemic will end, and it is the people in every country who will play the decisive role.

(Source: Zhang Wenhong, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Huashan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University)

Q: Is there a danger when opening windows for ventilation?

A: Ventilation is very important. The concentration of virus in the air is quite low, so there is no need to fear that the virus may come in through opened windows. The virus will gradually diminish or lose vitality once it becomes dried after exposure in the air. Besides, the air flows fast, and if a patient emits a breath, the exhaled air is dispersed quickly and the concentration of the virus becomes low. So it is important to keep indoor ventilation, or mechanical ventilation and purifier ventilation to ensure oxygen levels stay high.

(Source: Prof. Cao Junji, research fellow at the Institute of Earth Environment & director of Key Laboratory of Aerosol Chemistry and Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Q: I am studying in France, where the government has ordered strict restrictions on people's movement. Can I still go outside?

A: Currently, the French government has escalated the epidemic control measures and imposed stringent restrictions on movement. Reduced movement of people will decrease the risk of infection. Please strictly observe the restriction measures of the French government, keep close tabs on the latest movement restriction measures, decrease your outdoor movement as much as possible, reduce your contact with others and avoid gatherings so as to effectively lower the risk of infection and transmission.

(Source: Lu Shaye, Chinese Ambassador to France)

Q: I am currently staying in the United States and I am afraid of having such symptoms as fever and cough. If I am infected, who should I turn to for help?

A: The Chinese Embassy in the US has set up two new hotlines offering COVID-19 related assistance: +1-2028309551 and +1-2028484007.

(Source: The website of the Chinese Embassy in the US)

Q: Our school has suspended activities and our dormitories have been closed. I cannot find any accommodation and there is a severe shortage of supplies in the supermarket. What should I do?

A: Most people studying abroad are living alone. They are young and are inexperienced at looking after themselves. Chinese overseas embassies and consulates attach great importance to addressing the difficulties of local Chinese students in their studies, accommodation and visa extension, etc. The embassies and consulates will coordinate with local Chinese and Chinese enterprises to offer food and shopping assistance to local Chinese students. The Chinese embassies and consulates in the UK, France, Italy and the U.S. are coordinating efforts and resources to provide Chinese students studying there with health packs containing necessary protection supplies and an anti-epidemic guide. Some of the embassies and consulates have set up a special “Consultation Hotline for Parents of Overseas Chinese Students” to answer questions from those parents.

(Source: Luo Zhaohui, Deputy Foreign Minister of the PRC)

Q: I heard that the Chinese embassy in the UK is providing Chinese students with health packs. How can I get one?

A: The Chinese embassy in the UK is providing Chinese students studying there with health packs containing an anti-epidemic guide. The health packs will be sent to you through the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Union of Students of various schools. Please pay attention to the relevant notice of those student unions. If you meet any difficulties, please call +44 20-74368294 or +44 20-72998435 to contact the Chinese embassy.

(Source: The Chinese Embassy in the UK)

Q: I am not able to buy face masks abroad and would like to ask my parents to send some masks from Shanghai. Which courier service provider can deliver the masks for me? How long will it take to deliver the masks?

A: Shunfeng (SF) Express can deliver the masks. However, anti-epidemic supplies including masks can only be exported when customs declaration requirements are met. Currently, it takes a longer time to deliver masks overseas. You can follow the WeChat account of SF Express and click “Me”—“Service queries”—“Shipping Costs and Transit Times”. EMS and DHL can also deliver masks overseas. Please dial the hotline number 11185 and press 6 for more information.

(Source: SF Express and Shanghai Municipal Postal Administration)

Q: What is the safest way to deal with express deliveries and letters, as they may carry viruses?

A: Actually there is no need for special treatment. However, if you are still worried, you can spray them with alcohol sanitizer, or put them in an oven for an hour at 60 degrees Celsius.

(Source: Zhang Wenhong, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Huashan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University)

Q: I am an exchange student in a university in the US. As classes in the US have been suspended and exams have been cancelled, how do I convert my academic credits? Can I return to study in my home university in China after school starts?

A: Classes are now suspended in US universities, but they are still offering distance learning and relevant assessment methods have also been published. So you can still gain your credits after the semester ends. Regarding whether you can come back to continue your studies, you have to consult your home university in China.

(Source: Zhang Jie, an expert on overseas study and former principal of Stuyvesant High School in New York)

Q: I am a US university exchange student in Japan. Now my Japanese university requires me to return to the American university, but classes in US universities have been suspended. What should I do?

A: As an exchange student, your academic status belongs to the US university. Contact your home university right away once you are told to leave by the country you are visiting. For the time being, most US universities have not actually “suspended” their classes, because they are offering online education. The home university should not refuse the requests of its exchange students. If you have missed too many classes in the Japanese university to meet the required academic hours, you might have to retake the courses in the next semester.

(Source: Zhang Jie, an expert on overseas study and former principal of Stuyvesant High School in New York)

Q: I went to study in Australia this February. Should I apply to drop out? Will it affect my future application for admission to other schools?

A: Dropping out is not recommended. You can complete your studies through online learning and other methods, in accordance with your school’s regulations. While ensuring epidemic prevention and studying online, you can wait for classes to return to normal. If you decide to drop out, do clarify the reason for doing so when you apply for another school, and there should be no significant impact.

(Source: Zhang Jie, an expert on overseas study and former principal of Stuyvesant High School in New York)

Q: I’m studying in a British school, which is now closed. But if I return to China at present, I may not be able to obtain a visa to return to the UK to complete my studies. Can the embassy offer some help?

A: It is recommended that students stay in the UK. The embassy will coordinate the allocation of anti-epidemic materials and hand out health packs. As for your studies, it is recommended that you communicate with the school. For students who have returned to China, if they come across related problems they can reach out to the embassy for necessary information and help.

(Source: Liu Xiaoming, Chinese Ambassador to the UK)

Guide for overseas Chinese students during COVID-19 pandemic

Chinese embassy provides health packs to Chinese students in Iceland

Q: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread overseas, should returning to China immediately be my first choice?

A: Long-haul flights incur infection risk. Due to the epidemic, journeys back home are usually longer than usual. Afraid of getting infected, some people may choose to refrain from eating or drinking during their entire flight. This, coupled with fatigue and worry over the coronavirus, may further lower immunity and then increase the risk of infection.

(Source: Zhu Lei, chief physician of the Respiratory Department, Zhongshan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University)

Q: I am currently in London, UK, and plan to head back to Shanghai soon. What preparations should I make?

A: Once you’ve made the decision to come back, direct flights should be your first option if possible. If you have to take a connecting flight, be sure to check the latest information regarding relevant airports, visa requirements, epidemic prevention regulations and so on in advance so that you’re fully prepared. Also, make sure to follow the filing procedures required by your school, keep close contact with the school or institution where you do your internship, and properly arrange study and visa-related issues. You must also abide by the relevant epidemic prevention regulations in China once you arrive back.

(Source: The Chinese Embassy in the UK)

Q: With the reduced number of international flights, will I be able to buy a ticket home?

A: All Chinese airlines are allowed to operate only one flight to each country per week, while foreign aviation companies can maintain only one route to China, and there should be no more than one flight per week for each, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a circular on March 26. All airlines are required to control passenger capacity on international flights to under 75 percent in order to curb overcrowding and reduce the risk of infection. The number of inbound air travelers is estimated to drop to 5,000 each day.

(Source: The Transport Department, Civil Aviation Administration of China)

Q: Is it possible for China to arrange temporary flights or chartered flights to bring back overseas students?

A: Based on real demand, the Civil Aviation Administration of China will activate air travel transportation mechanisms for overseas Chinese citizens, including the arrangement of temporary flights or chartered flights, to bring overseas Chinese back to cities with mass demand and the ability to receive flights.

(Source: The Transport Department, Civil Aviation Administration of China).

Q: On the way home by airplane, what should I do to remain relatively safe?

A: The cabin is a closed space and of high-risk virus for infection. It’s necessary to ensure that a mask is worn for a long period. It is not necessary to wear protective clothing and goggles if no confirmed patients are in close contact. The riskiest infection scenario is the boarding process, and remember to wash your hands frequently.

(Source: Zhang Wenhong, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases of Huashan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University)

Q: Can I apply for home isolation after entering Shanghai from abroad?

A: Shanghai has implemented 14-day centralized quarantine health observation for all people returning from abroad from March 28. Those who have already been isolated at home (before midnight on March 28) will continue to be isolated until the expiry of their 14-day quarantine. Diplomatic personnel entering the country and those engaged in important economic, trade, scientific research and technical cooperation shall be processed in accordance with other regulations.

Those who are not suitable for centralized quarantine –including the elderly, minors, pregnant women, people with reduced mobility, elderly or children in need of care and those suffering from basic diseases – will undergo nucleic acid testing at uniform inspection points in the city’s districts. If the test result is negative and the conditions for home isolation are met, including passing the strict verification and approval process, home isolation can be applied for.

(Source: Shanghai Fabu WeChat account)

Q: How can Chinese students studying in the UK protect themselves when encountering hostile people?

A: First, overseas students should strengthen their self-protection, and try to avoid suspicious-looking people when walking on the street. If there is a quarrel, try to protect yourself and dodge and avoid physical conflict. Second, if attacked or abused, you should report to the school instantly and then report to the police. Third, make sure to inform the Chinese embassies and consulates in the UK in a timely manner. We will waste no time negotiating with school authorities and the British police, urging them to strengthen protection.

(Source: Liu Xiaoming, Chinese Ambassador to the UK)

Guide for overseas Chinese students during COVID-19 pandemic

The Chinese Consulate in Istanbul prepares the health pack, including mask and hand sanitizer. 

Q: I am now staying in the UK and fearful of going out due to the risk of infection. I am lonely and afraid. How can I resolve anxiety in this special period?

A: We advocate and support the National Union of Students of the United Kingdom and local unions to carry out activities under the theme of “help each other and overcome difficulties” in order to form a team of volunteers for mutual assistance, establish a WeChat group, organize online medical guidance, and set up psychological counseling activities to help everyone.

(Source: The Chinese Embassy in the UK)

Q: I am studying in Italy and I dare not go out every day. I’m panicked and can't sleep well at night. What should I do?

A: First, we must accept and consider the situation rationally. It is normal for people to feel anxious under the influence of an epidemic. Second, we must create a safe and comfortable environment to avoid going out and allow staying at home. Once again, we must arrange our daily lives reasonably. Keep a regular schedule, learn some knowledge about the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, and do proper housework and home exercise. Last but not least, seeking emotional support is also a good idea. You can make video calls with relatives and friends in China to relieve bad feelings.

(Source: Qiao Ying, associate chief physician of the Psychiatry Department, Shanghai Mental Health Center)

Q: I am worried about discrimination, even insults and attacks. Sometimes I am awoken by nightmares. How can I manage such panic and fear?

A: You need support and comfort from your peers. Please talk about your feelings with other overseas students – you may find such concerns are not unique. You can discuss solutions together, and “brainstorming” may lead to some “golden ideas”. Meanwhile, you can communicate with your family members to seek support. If the measures above are not effective, you may seek professional help.

(Source: Qiao Ying, associate chief physician of the Psychiatry Department, Shanghai Mental Health Center)

Q: I don’t plan to return home right now, but my parents are extremely worried. Every time we do a video chat, I can see my mother weeping. How can I comfort my parents and reduce their worries?

A: People’s tensions and anxiety come from the feeling of losing control over something. Thus the best way to make your parents “less worried” is to let them know more about the “truth”. For example, you can explain to them patiently why you choose not to return. The reasons must be well considered and you should try to tell them in a way that takes their perspective into account. You can also show them the condition of virus control and prevention overseas.

(Source: Qiao Ying, associate chief physician of the Psychiatry Department, Shanghai Mental Health Center)

(With inputs from and The Paper)

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