Returning from China in times of virus-panic

31 Jan 2020

Gijs Philipsen had the best possible timing throughout a generally ill-timed period for a stay in China. The 24-year old Business Administration student left Nijmegen in August 2019 for a five-month stay in Shanghai. A semester which ended with the outbreak of the notorious Corona-virus that has front pages of international news outlets plastered with reports of terror.

’I got really lucky’, says Philipsen, who has returned to the Netherlands on the 29th of January after a one-week vacation in Thailand after his exchange semester in Shanghai, ’I could leave right before all the madness breaks out.’ Would he have stayed longer or have tried to fly back directly from China, his return could have been more complicated. According to Philipsen, the Chinese government has issued preventive measures to dampen the epidemic all over the country, including his own exchange city Shanghai.

Gijs Philipsen. Photo: Antonia Leise

In a message Philipsen received by Shanghai University after he had already left China, officials were issuing rules preventing exit and re-entrance from and into campus. Were students to leave or enter the campus for urgent reasons anyway, since the 28th of January, they were only allowed to do so after receiving clearance by security officers at the gate and a body temperature test.

Chinese new year

Because the epidemic broke out at the end of Philipsen’s stay, he had already completed his exams and did leave as scheduled and not specifically because of the virus. The atmosphere in the city, however, had already changed during his last weeks in Shanghai. ’The streets were way emptier than before the outbreak — and if people do go outside, they wear masks’, he says, ’I have seen videos on social media by other exchange students of people in white suits and masks spraying out airports and train stations. Schools and universities haven’t been re-opened after the scheduled vacation for the Chinese new year. It’s crazy.’

‘If I were about to stay longer, I would have been more scared’

When asked about whether the virus outbreak was worrying him, Philipsen negates. ’I already knew my stay was coming to an end, so I wasn’t too worried about it. If I were about to stay longer, I would have been more scared.’ For now, Philipsen says, he is just glad to be back home and hopes to return to China in the future. Once the epidemic is over, of course.

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