The Distance - If I’m No Longer Here Anymore

Ziyi Zhang is a Freshman from Wuhan University of Technology. In his everyday life, he’s an optimistic boy who’s always longing for outdoor activities, in the meantime with a definite goal for his life. The following articles are all from his personal perspective, taking us on a tour, filling us in with the real experience of being a Wuhaner during the pandemic.
It’s Just a Flu…Right?

At the start of 2020, a virus outbreak occurred in Wuhan due to the COVID-19. To be honest, I was somewhat hesitant at first. The rumors were spreading around at that time, but I didn’t freak out, I thought it’s far away from us, and probably it’s just the flu. Instead, my mom bought 600 face masks and several goggles. When this outbreak just got reported on TV, my school holiday has already started so it didn’t affect my school-related stuff that much.

I’m the kind of person who likes to fulfill my life with different stuff to do. At the beginning of my winter holiday, I signed up for a TOEFL class for myself and I had to go to Wuchang for classes. At that time, I wasn’t paying attention to the outbreak, but my parents told me to always carry a face mask with me. I took it off during my classes, because I felt a little bit short of air, and the temperature of the AC in the classroom was kind of high. Gradually, our teacher started to wear masks, and about half of the people on the street started to wear masks, too. On that day, I felt that things might be a little bit different from what I had imagined, I started to worry a bit. The next morning I asked for a day off, but in the afternoon I got the news that the school started to close down. I was a little bit confused, but I just stayed at home anyway.

Time Stands Still

The moment when I finally realized how serious this was, is when Wuhan started to close down. My family actually had travel plans before the closedown, but because of it, we have to leave them on hold. The closedown was announced several hours in advance, but we didn’t choose to get out of the city because the time was kind of limited for us. Besides, staying at home was definitely more familiar for us instead of going to unfamiliar cities. One of my mom’s friends’ family decided to go out of the city, though. Even though we didn’t communicate that much, still, they did send us some messages asking us how we were doing and what’s the situation, but we knew that it’s safer for them to stay outside of Wuhan.

They lived outside of Wuhan for nearly two months, which is probably kind of tough for them because apparently nowhere is as comfortable as their own home. I think those people who traveled out of the city urgently must have their own reasons, some of them need to go home for celebrating Chinese New Year with their family, while some of the others need to go back for their jobs. However, a majority of the family don’t really have urgent things to deal with, after they heard about the closedown, they basically wouldn’t go out.

After the closedown of the city, different districts start to close down gradually, and then different streets close down, too. Now, the neighborhoods starts to close down, we basically can’t go out. I’m the kind of person who likes to travel by subway around the city. I distinctly remember the time when I went out to a local shopping mall before the Chinese New Year, I went there on foot by myself. At that time, the majority of shopping malls and little shops were already closed, the streets were deserted, I could only see one or two people walking on the street, instead of the crowded streets that I used to know before. I was surprised and shocked, so I immediately went home, and decided to stay at home and not going out.

Now, except for several vehicles carrying supplies, there were almost no random people on the street, most of them are medical staff, police, etc. The streets were cold and empty, and it's also somewhat difficult for us to get the enough amount of food to fulfill our general food requirements. What we always did at the time was buying some vegetables and stuff from all kinds of WeChat groups, to meet our daily needs of food.

Watching the news on TV at home, seeing the confirmed cases ascending continuously, my mind started to weight down. But the numbers on TV will always only be numbers. What really shocked me and made my heart ache was the sound of crying from the medical staff. Every time when I see stuff like this, it awakes an ache in my heart. Except for the fear towards death, the more I saw at this time period was the strength of people working together as a group, in order to fight against the virus.

I have seen a few videos of the Wuchang events. The one that gave me a deep impression was a driver who was responsible for driving the patients. He was probably trying to transfer all the patients to a centralized location so that it will be easier for the medical staff to take care of them, but then the leader who was supposed to follow the bus and take care of them was not present at the moment. The driver then lost his way, he didn’t know where to drive to, so he parked the bus to an alley, the people on the bus were scared and started to scold the driver. The key was that the driver was actually very innocent, his work was not being arranged well by his boss which ended up in he didn’t know where to send the patients to, but everyone on the bus was only blaming him. He tried to call his boss, but no one’s picking up. The work was not arranged well, plus no one was picking up the phone, so the driver started to cry and roar, not towards the patients on the bus, but to the sky. I was so heartbroken to see that on video. The management in Wuchang was not very good. The main problem lies in the government and staff in Wuchang, probably some work has not been arranged into place and there were lack of communication. This scene was like a frozen moment on film, deeply engraved in my head, and cannot be forgotten.

This is the first time I had felt that the pandemic is actually really close to me, even to those around me. Wuhan, in recent months, has been on Trending all the time, most of them were negative news. For me, the most terrifying thing is not the disease itself, but the sense of panic and the distance between people. If a random family member started to cough or had a lack of breath, they would feel that they might have the disease, and worrying all day, the rest assured when no similar symptoms have occurred. During the pandemic, I have received a lot of heartwarming greeting messages from others. Most of them were simple greetings, but they still felt really sweet. Maybe you wouldn’t know how painful it is and how serious the disease is until it actually hits on you, or your loved ones.


My aunt, my mom’s sister, has a daughter who is currently in the third year of middle school, which as a crucial year for her* (Middle school students in China need to do a test at the end of their third year of middle school, to get into their targeted high schools). When she discovered that she had similar COVID-19 symptoms, the first thing she did was to self-quarantine herself and moved to another house, which brought a lot of inconveniences into her life. As a mother, she’s usually really strict on her daughter’s academics. But as this incident occurred, it became difficult for her to take care of her daughter’s living, as well as managing her daughter’s study routine. Her husband usually does not really pay enough attention to their daughter’s academics, which is also a reason why my aunt was worried.

My aunt didn’t mention this incident to anyone, including my grandparents, but only to my mom. She didn’t want my grandparents to worry about her. My mom was very anxious after knowing about this incident. She and my aunt had a phone call from 2 to 7 pm, a full five hours. During the phone call, my mom was wiping her tears all the time, my aunt was also choked with tears on the other side of the call. “If I leave this world, please take care of my daughter,” she said in a tearful voice, telling my mom to take good care and be kind to her daughter. During the few days when the incident just occurred, my mom told me to send a comforting message to my aunt, I nodded yes. I still remember that she didn’t reply to my message immediately, probably because she was in the hospital. It’s easy to get cross-infection in hospitals, people tend to be nervous, so I understand that it’s hard for her to reply to my messages on time. I went to visit her the second day, she replied simply, “Well, everything is going to be okay.” Her reply was much low-spirited than usual, it felt like she wasn’t too energetic to reply.

When the people around me actually caught the disease, I really started to understand how serious this is. Listening to her tone of voice and description of her symptoms, from lack of breath to a fever, I could almost confirm that her case is confirmed, because usually she doesn’t fever in other times but coincidently, caught a fever during this season. Having obvious symptoms during this critical period of time, that basically confirms the case. You could just feel it from the bottom of your heart, that something really is going on. But there’s always a glimmer of hope, maybe her descriptions of symptoms were not 100% accurate, maybe what she felt and what she expressed was different. This kind of spreading panic, will indeed cause people to associate their small symptoms with more severe things, immerse themselves in a worrying state of mind every single day.

Except for the all-day worrying, there’s also a sense of helplessness. Due to the pandemic, all hospitals had been fully booked. So even though your case is confirmed, it’s extremely difficult to get in. You couldn’t even go in by using your network, even the director of the hospital’s own children could not get in. Although Wuhan began to build makeshift hospitals as well as Huoshenshan Hospital ad Leishenshan Hospital, the number of patients that they could accommodate was still only a fraction of the number of confirmed cases. One hospital could only accommodate around 1000 people* (according to official stats, one hospital could actually accommodate around 1500 people). In Wuhan, the city with over 10 million populations, I suppose that 1/14 of them are suspected patients. In my impressions, there were at least hundreds of thousands of suspect patients keeping coming out, until now there is still a lot.

Waiting For the Flowers to Bloom

In fact, there was a problem with self-quarantine at home - outbreak reporting. My part of the neighborhood did a really good job on this, the report of outbreaks was very timely, but my aunt’s neighborhood didn’t do well on reporting, my aunt had to take the initiative to inquire, and find the organization to report her situation. Since the ads on TV now in Wuhan are basically all the contact information of various organizations, it’s not hard to get connected with them. In fact, Wuhan is actually fine, but Wuchang is a little bit hard to organize. The report that I mentioned earlier about the bus driver, Wuchang was where it happens.

My aunt has still not gone back home now. She has almost quarantined for 40 days, should have already passed the incubation period. Maybe it’s because she always has had some small problems with her lungs, she went to the hospital and check that there are indeed shadows on her lungs. She didn’t have any severe symptoms, like coughing blood or being too weak to get up, she just didn’t feel really well. My aunt would tell my mom what she needs, my mother was also very enthusiastic to provide help. My mom even snuck out across the river from here in Hanyang to get to Wuchang, just to get some medicine for my aunt during the closedown. She bought foods, fruits, brewed soups, tried her best to give all she could get to my aunt.

I and my dad actually started out as certain that my aunt was indeed got infected by COVID-19. Although my mom has always been not in very good condition in health, those times when she went out to help my aunt, I hoped that she didn’t have to go out, but in a situation like this, I couldn’t just leave my aunt there and not to take care of her, she always treats me well throughout the days we spent together. In addition, my aunt’s husband and their daughter cannot provide any substantial help, in most times it’s to rely on my mom. She always went out, from Wuhan to Wuchang, took the medicine, and then came back.

My mom is doing really well on protecting herself, which makes us less stressful. Besides helping out my aunt, my mom was also assigned to other jobs, such as helping to check body temperatures of local residents, controlling the flow of people going in and out, and counting the number of people who got sick door to door. Every time when she comes home, she throws her protective suits, gloves, mask into a bucket and spray them with a lot of disinfectant, then take a shower. Since there are confirmed cases in our building, there’s a staff who’s responsible for controlling the personnel going in and out. There’s also a notice posted downstairs that says “Self-quarantine patients are present in this building”. Everyone is in awe of death.

At the begging of the pandemic, I was not used to it, and I would increase my sleeping time intentionally. I used to wake up at 7 or 8 in the morning and go out to do stuff, but now I’m tend to stay in bed, because there’s nothing I can do even if I get up. In the afternoon, I would stuck on my phone, play some games, watch movies, and then the afternoon just passed. The evening is the most lively time for my family in the day, we would get together to have dinner, chat and watch TV afterwards.

As the time went on and the situation gets better and better, my school began to start doing online classes just like other colleges. The topic my mom and my aunt talks about went from life & death to daily lives. Our family talks went from talking about the pandemic, exaggerating everything to now talking about school. Everyone has gradually relaxed our nerves, with the idea that the pandemic would come to an end sooner or later. We all started to cherish our lives more.

Now, as the situation is gradually improving and getting better, my mentality has slow adjusted back. My aunt has returned home, started to help with her daughter’s school work, I also began to prepare for my finals. At the end, I guess the willows has sprouted. When it comes to the time when flower blossoms, let’s witness our homeland prospers again!

Interviewed By

Ting Mei


Ziyi Zhang

Interview Date



College Freshman