Expats in Xi'an stay sanguine amid COVID-19 resurgence

Sandrine, a French national living in Xi'an, decided to ring in 2022 in a slightly different way – volunteering for the city's epidemic control and prevention work.

Sandrine, a French national living in Xi'an, an ancient city in northwest China, decided to ring in 2022 in a slightly different way – volunteering for the city's epidemic control and prevention work.

The city is currently battling a COVID-19 resurgence, with more than 1,700 cases reported since December 9, 2021, while authorities have taken strict measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Everyone in the megacity of 13 million people – the natives, the migrants and the expats – has joined hands to surmount these trying times.

French expat on last day of 2021

Sandrine has been a resident of Xi'an for nearly a decade and is mostly known by her Chinese name, "Wu Hong."

Before night fell, she arrived at a nucleic acid testing site in Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU), put on protective clothing, a mask and goggles, and began her work.

Since the resurgence of the epidemic, more than 5,000 nucleic testing sites have been set up across the city, with over 100,000 medics, community staff and volunteers relaying on the sites to safeguard the city.

"We have to work together to control the epidemic, and there is nothing more important than this at present," said Sandrine, who teaches calculus and other maths-related subjects in NPU.

"As part of the school community, I feel obliged to join the fight against the epidemic," she added. "As a teacher, I should stand up and protect my students as well."

Though the campus is closed for epidemic control, Sandrine's life remains the same; the only exception is that classes have moved online.

Watching students listen attentively and take notes on the other side of the screen, she is relieved to find that students have not been greatly affected by the epidemic and the closure of the campus.

She believes that it is necessary for Xi'an to adopt strict control measures. "Not being free now is for real freedom later. The epidemic should be brought under control as soon as possible through strict measures," Sandrine said.

The university started recruiting volunteers on December 29, and Sandrine signed up in no time. To her surprise, her colleagues were also "jostling" to be volunteers. "If you are slow, you may not get a chance," she said.

As a volunteer, Sandrine is tasked with scanning QR codes, checking information, handling test tubes, among others. Even after more than three hours of volunteer work, she was not done yet. She went to the west gate of the campus to help with security management.

After winding up her volunteer work at around 10:00 pm, Sandrine returned to her apartment and made a video call to her family in France to greet them on the new year.

"My family is not worried about my safety in Xi'an, for they know that China has done a good job in anti-epidemic work," she said.

Sandrine's New Year's resolution is clear – "May Xi'an be safe; may the world be safe."

Sticking together as a community

Dev Raturi, a 45-year-old Indian, has stayed in China for 17 years. In 2012, he opened his first restaurant in Xi'an.

Since December 23, 2021, residential compounds have been in lockdown, and Raturi deems it a blessing in disguise as it has allowed him to spend quality time at home. "This is the best time to learn, do some exercise and have fun with my family."

Although they are confined indoors during this period, their lives have not been much affected.

"We have to undergo nucleic acid testing almost on a daily basis so that we can know about our health conditions," Raturi said, adding that community staff members are in charge of delivering food and other essentials.

Raturi owns five restaurants in Xi'an and all of them have been temporarily closed. "It's a big loss, but only a short-time loss. If you don't control it (the epidemic), it will be a long-term loss, and we have to close the restaurants forever," he said.

Kwon Min Ho, from the Republic of Korea, is visibly impressed by the role that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) plays in battling the epidemic.

A student at the Shaanxi University of Chinese Medicine, 27-year-old Kwon noticed the therapeutic effects of TCM at the beginning of 2020 after COVID-19 patients found relief through TCM.

"In addition to treatment, TCM can also boost the immunity in susceptible people and help in disease prevention," Kwon said.

His university is currently under closed-off management and classes have moved online. The school has distributed epidemic prevention materials to the students.

"My university mates take turns as volunteers to help maintain order during the epidemic. We have trust in the Chinese government's ability to control the outbreak and won't panic," he said.

"A college-age boy and his mother who are our immediate neighbors have also volunteered. Everybody is cooperating, nobody is complaining. Everything is just fine," said John Carmichael, a Canadian who works as a CTO in a Xi'an-based cloud data company.

Carmichael believes that the best way to accomplish anything is through solidarity.

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