Students in Wuhan cope with lockdown at universities

A resident rides past the closed Huangpu Road metro station in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Jan 25, 2020. [Photo by Zhou Guoqiang/for]

Gulmira Sattar, a second-year undergraduate at Wuhan University, had planned to go to her hometown in Turpan, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on the afternoon of Jan 23. Her trip was canceled as the city was put under lockdown at 10 am that day.

She has spent the last three months at the university since it was also put under lockdown.

The university started winter vacation on Jan 12, but she stayed there to prepare for English and computer credential exams.

"We were not allowed to leave our dormitory, and suddenly I realized I was the only student left in the building. The only other person was the dormitory supervisor," she said.

"During the early days, I would burst into tears and cry for a long time, but I did not tell my parents during our daily video chats as it would only make them more anxious," said Gulmira, 22.

She instantly bonded with the supervisor, whom she called aunt Duan.

"She and I became good friends. She knew I was very worried and would talk with me frequently," she said.

"Teachers and classmates were also there for me whenever I needed them."

The university has been very helpful by delivering three free halal meals, fruit and milk outside the dorm door every day.

In addition to helping Gulmira, the university has also aided 57 undergraduate students who remained at the university during the outbreak. For example, it has provided students with free protective equipment and medicine, she said.

Further, teachers have kept daily contact with the students to check up on their health status, deal with any difficulties they might have and offer psychological counseling, the university said.

Elsewhere, Wang Haitong, a second-year undergraduate student at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, said all remaining students have been moved to the same dorm, and each live in a separate room.

"The dorm supervisor would disinfect the building twice every day, and the school has also provided us with enough protective equipment, so I am not too worried about the epidemic," said Wang, 20.

It is boring staying in the dorm for so long, he said, but he has found ways to keep himself busy, such as reading books, preparing for the new semester and exercising regularly.

"I really hope that my classmates can return to the school and everything can get back to normal soon," he said. "After the outbreak ends, I want to play basketball and get my driver's license."

Yi Yuanxiang, director of the university's department of student's affairs, said 37 undergraduate students remained at the university. Student counselors have been asked to hold daily video chats with them.

Huazhong university has offered free meals, daily necessities and protective equipment to the students, and students from impoverished families were also given subsidies of 2,000 yuan ($282), he said.

Since Wuhan's lockdown was lifted on April 8, eight students have returned home. The university continues to offer necessary help to remaining students, he added.

Ahmat Tohniyaz, a senior undergraduate student at Huazhong, said he will go home after graduation.

"I look forward to meeting and talking with my classmates and teammates after they return to Wuhan and attending the graduation ceremony," the 25-year-old said.

Although Huazhong has allowed remaining students to go outside the campus after April 8, he has chosen to stay in his dorm most of the time.

"Wuhan people have sacrificed so much by staying at home for so long to curb the spread of the epidemic," he said. "What I can do is to hang in there a little bit longer until the city fully recovers."

Liu Yunzhen, a senior student at Wuhan University who, like Gulmira, also remained on campus, said she has spent her time in her dorm writing a graduation thesis and doing an internship with an animation company.

Liu said she was not too worried during the last three months, as she knew she would be safe as long as she did not leave her dorm.

Gulmira has been taking online courses since Feb 17, and her life in the dorm became busier with the start of the new semester online.

"I hope my classmates and teachers can return to the school soon," she said. "I really miss going to the classrooms for classes and having Xinjiang fried rice-flour noodles with my friends."

Zhou Lihua contributed to this story.