As China grapples with a rise in cases of the coronavirus, which initially broke out in the city of Wuhan, two U of T students spoke to The Varsity about their experiences. One was forced to stay in Wuhan due to an expanded quarantine, and another was met with fear from other students as she returned to U of T for the semester. 

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses, which include both the common cold and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, better known as SARS. Over 1,300 cases of the coronavirus and 41 deaths have been confirmed within China. There have also been reported cases in seven other countries, including two patients in the United States.

Following a lockdown of Wuhan on January 23, the Chinese government expanded its quarantine on January 24 to several other cities in the Hubei province. The first reported case was from Wuhan on December 31. 

U of T student in Wuhan forced to drop semester

Second-year Rotman Commerce student Ming* was forced to drop out from this semester at U of T as a result of the quarantine on Wuhan. Ming was given a full refund for the cancellation of his flight, which was scheduled for January 25. 

However, at the moment school is not Ming’s greatest concern. His father, who also lives in Wuhan, has come down with a fever, an early symptom of coronavirus infection. Seeking care is difficult because hospitals and clinics have been overcrowded since the outbreak. Ming himself had flu-like symptoms, but was not tested for the virus. 

“Me and [my] family are very worried with the virus now,” Ming wrote to The Varsity. “I had the flu and haven’t been cleared for the virus yet. My dad is having a fever right now, but the hospital is too overcrowded it [sic] take him in.”

“My roommate is scared of me now”

Xinru Xiao, a second-year student studying chemistry, is frustrated and anxious about the quarantine — and her remaining family in the city. 

The Varsity first reached out to Xiao on January 20, on the eve of the Wuhan quarantine, when she was planning to drop this semester and fly back home. Xiao’s parents both work for the local health department and face extreme pressure at work due to the outbreak.

“I want to go back home and be there for them,” wrote Xiao.

However, due to the quarantine, Xiao was forced to give up her plans to return to Wuhan and is waiting anxiously in Toronto as the situation at home unfolds. 

Other than the physical threat of the new coronavirus, the fear among people through the news and social media has impacted the lives of students from Wuhan.

“My roommate is scared of me now,” said Xiao, “And her friends have been avoiding her, too.” Xiao showed The Varsity a chat history where her roommate’s friend asked her roommate to sit far away in a lecture to keep a “safe distance.”**

Xiao arrived in Toronto on January 17 and has not shown any symptoms of the coronavirus. She has refrained from attending classes this semester as a mode of “self-quarantine,” seeing as she spent the entire winter break in Wuhan. 

A spokesperson for the World Health Organization in Geneva told the Associated Press on January 24 that “it’s still too early to draw conclusions about how severe the virus is” from reported deaths and illnesses. 

During a press conference in Toronto, David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said there are no confirmed cases in Canada as of yet, however he believes it’s just “a matter of where and when.” He also told the public that Ontario’s public health system is ready to combat the new coronavirus if it spreads to Toronto. 

There has been one presumptive case of coronavirus in Toronto at the time of publication.

The Varsity has reached out to U of T Media Relations for comment.

*Student’s name has been changed due to privacy purposes

**Translated by The Varsity

Editor’s Note (January 25, 6:57pm): This article was changed to reflect the number of coronavirus cases in Canada.