Timo Balz, Professor at LIESMARS, Wuhan University
Since February 23, my family and me, as well as 9 million others, can’t leave the city of Wuhan, our home for more than 10 years now, anymore. Since then we are stuck at home. Living in a city under quarantine and struck with an infectious disease makes one feel uneasy. Being stuck at home one has to fight boredom as well as fear.
When the German embassy offered my family could be evacuated to Germany, we were thankful and thought about this. But, we decided to stay in Wuhan. Why? The answer is easy, Wuhan is our home for more than 10 years. Both of our kids were born here, we are not about to leave our home. Many foreigners leaving Wuhan are tourists, students, businessmen, just wanting to go home; as are the Wuhanese that are now being brought back from abroad, home to Wuhan. They all just want to go home and we wanted to stay home. Feeling home is not a matter of the passport, but a matter of the heart. We didn’t want to leave our family, friends, and colleagues during this time. It is as simple as that.
The quarantine of Wuhan is a strong and decisive measure, as is the following increasing compartmentalization of the city. These measures make living in the city more difficult, but they also make us feel safe at home. This virus spreads from infected that are unaware of their own infection, needing a strict quarantine system to be set in place. Uncomfortable and annoying? Yes, but necessary!
Being in Wuhan, in the center of a global news event, many questions from outside are being asked. Mostly, I am under the impression people believe the situation to be like in a disaster movie. This is not the case though. In fact, for us it is rather the opposite. It is mostly just very boring. We are stuck at home and should not go out. So, we limit going out to necessary shopping of groceries. Not all the small shops around our home are open, but the open ones are well stocked with fresh vegetables, fruits, and meat. We are not hungry and we have a good stock of masks to protect ourselves when going out. The management of the crisis works well, down until the smallest units. Problems are handled and for the immobile, the elderly, or the sick, that can’t go out, the local communities are organizing food shopping and delivery. I couldn’t imagine this level of organization, especially in an otherwise chaotic seeming city.
Another thing I couldn’t imagine is the increase of racism from foreign media and politicians in the face of this crisis. Coming from Germany, we understand where racism can lead and it just saddens me to see such reactions. I call on all of us in China to react with a clear head though. Instead of letting anger overcome, we should open our arms even further. We should further strengthen our outreach and international cooperation activities in science and education. This and future diseases will be eliminated by science, education, and cooperation.
So, we are fighting this disease using the scientific methods. All efforts are based on science and the worldwide agreed on best practices, as also clearly stated by the WHO. While others ‘pray for the victims’, in China the goal is to help based on science and the current state of the art in medicine. Science is and has always been based on cooperation not isolation and will grow faster in an environment that is open for the scientific ideas and exchanges.
If we compare the situation of China during SARS 2003 and today, we find that there has huge progress in science in China. China changed from the student that it was in 2003, to the partner and even the teacher in 2020. Many of the leading experts are now in China, which is a result of scientific cooperation, investment into the science and of a society that is open to science and progress.
Now, with China in many instances being itself rather an expert and teacher, it is also necessary to help and educate others. Our neighbors along the belt and road also should improve and China should lend a hand. If we take the example of a disease, if such a disease breaks out in one of our neighbor countries, which are not able to handle that, it would also reach China. So, cooperation benefits everyone. Education benefits all, and this goes beyond science but also just basic education. These are the key elements that are the basis for the past success of China’s science and technology and will also be the cornerstones of the future success.