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A story of a Chinese professor during the pandemic

2022-11-26 00:00:00

Author's Note: On October 16, 2020, I told A Chinese Professor's Story during the Pandemic on this People's Daily app. Today I would like to tell a new story that just happened in this week. My school, the University of International Relations, had been locked since Monday, but it returned to normal in less than two days, exactly 37 hours. To me, it was an unforgettable experience.

Photos: Liu Junyang

Monday, November 14

In the first story two years ago, I mentioned that during the pandemic I developed a passion for football. Since then, nearly every day I go to play with a group of students, teachers, or anyone who lives in our community. The World Cup is around the corner, and we are all excited. Starting this semester, our teachers’ team has played every week with the students’ teams from all departments of the school. By the way, I am the oldest player, at 59, but I've scored nine goals in nine matches. This Wednesday, we will meet the champions of the Freshman League.

At 5 pm, I went to play as usual. About an hour later, I noticed many students leaving in a hurry. I thought there might be some kind of night event. The football field looked too quiet. Only three people, including me, played — normally we have about 16 players. I had to go teach my 7 pm class. On the way to the teaching building, I found that many students rushed out of the supermarket carrying big bags full of food. All students were going in the same direction, toward their dormitory buildings. "Attention please. All students have to go to dorms immediately and stay there until further notice. This is not a drill!" A student told me everyone got the same message from the school at 6 pm.

Student Counselor Huayan and Secretary Xixi of my department had already informed all the students and teachers. The school asked all student affairs teachers not to leave. At that moment, I was the only teacher from our department still on campus, and as the vice department chair in charge of student affairs, I had to stay.

All night classes were canceled. I sent a message to all students: "Please stay in your dorm. Don’t panic. The situation is not clear yet. Please don’t bother your family by sending them the bad news. Please remember, during the crisis, all teachers, including me, are with you. I am in the office. Anything you need help with, please call me." A student complained in the class's WeChat group. I called him and told him the reason for the lockdown was that three students were among the 20 who tested abnormal for COVID-19. "It is not the time to complain, please be calm and wait for further information." He accepted my advice. Huayan also sent the message in the WeChat group, "Understood, but we better wait and keep calm."

At 7:27 pm, the school issued its first notification. "At 5:40 pm, we received a message from the nucleic acid testing institution, informing us that two tubes each containing the combined samples of ten people from our school were found abnormal. An emergency plan was put into operation immediately, and the screening of the related 20 people is being carried out. The school has carried out various measures, including a temporary lockdown, and nucleic acid testing of all people living inside our school. At present, the school has sufficient supplies for epidemic prevention and daily necessities. Please pay attention to relevant information and strictly implement the control requirements." The school asked us to check the information of all the students immediately, and provide the exact number and their basic information. Huayan worked hard for two hours, helped by her student assistants.

I had a problem. At 8:30 pm every weekday, I have to pick up my girl Nini who is studying very hard for the College Entrance Exam the next year. She finishes her school day at 9 pm. Our school was locked down, no one could leave. I told my wife to go, but the security guide stopped her car. I told the vice president, Professor Xu, who is the leader of the Epidemic Prevention and Control Working Group. After promising that when picking up my girl, they would go directly back and not leave until the lockdown was lifted, she passed the gate. At 8:32 pm, there was a second notification. "After the work of the CDC of Haidian district and the Epidemic Prevention and Control Special Working Group of the school, all 20 people related to the abnormal test results have been located, including teachers and students. As of 8 pm tonight, the antigen test results of three students were negative. We are waiting for the results of the other 17 people."

Two students sent me the same message, "Anything I can do, please tell me. I’d like to help." I was very grateful, and I told them the best help right now is to try to calm others in their dorms.At 10 pm, there was a Tencent online meeting of all 37 student affairs teachers still on campus. We were asked to comfort all students, prevent panic, and provide exact data for students inside the dorms. "This is an emergency, the students need us. We all have to stay for the night and keep our phones on," the director of the Student Affairs Office Mr. Feng told us. Eleven o’clock is the normal time for our dorms to turn off the lights, but today the lights would be on all night.

Tuesday, November 15

The school has a nice guesthouse, but I didn’t want to bother the Special Working Group because many teachers would need a room there. It was midnight already. I received and forwarded a new message: "The positive result of a resident of Building 18 was confirmed. The whole school will be locked down today, and no one is allowed to go out. For students of two dormitory buildings, Runxing and Runyuan, teacher volunteers will deliver breakfast, and other students can get their meals in the canteen in an orderly manner. However, they have to bring the food to their dorm room to eat it, and everyone must wear N95 face masks. (The school has already provided enough of them) N95! N95! N95! To ensure that everyone has enough time to do the nucleic acid test, the morning classes are suspended, and the afternoon classes depend on the situation."

Fortunately, I found a dusty fold-up bed.

That morning I got new football shorts and a T-shirt from our teachers’ team. By the way, the team didn’t provide shoes. Anyone is welcome to join, no matter if you are male or female, old or young, skilled or a beginner. You have to love football and love to play with students, and you have to buy your own shoes.

I put on the new shorts and T-shirt and rode my two-wheel wave board for a few rounds along the empty corridors in the big teaching building. Then I tried to have a nap. I didn't have a quilt and a pillow, and I felt a little cold.

At 6:40 am, we received a third notification; "At 0:43 am on November 15, the CDC confirmed one positive case from the two "ten mixed" abnormal samples, who is a tenant in the residential area. At present, the overall safety of the campus is under control. Thanks to all teachers, students, and residents for their active cooperation. If there is a new situation, we will notify you as soon as possible."

Later, I was told by Ms. Wang, the director of the Neighborhood Committee, that the person who tested positive was a mother; she was sent to the hospital immediately by ambulance. Her husband and child were sent at the same time, but by another ambulance. The couple were tenants, not staff of the school. Ms. Wang worked very hard online, even though she was also locked in Building 18. “You cannot make everybody happy, but I have to try,” she said. Most residents understood the measures, but not everyone. A few people dialed the government Affairs Service hotline 12345 to complain, but Ms. Wang always replied with great politeness and patience. There were many messages in the WeChat group of the residents, some positive and some negative. I believe that most people were satisfied with her and the work of the Neighborhood Committee.

The rule of lockdown is that no one is allowed to go out, but there were exceptions. Two students from my department needed to go to a hospital, and they applied online. Their application was approved by Huayan, the Student Counselor, and then by me. A girl named He called in the morning: "I left my laptop and bag in the classroom; what can I do?" "The teaching building is locked, but you can try to pick them up during breakfast time. If there is a problem, call me immediately." She retreived it by herself.

At 6:50 am, 35 student affairs teachers had a meeting, and Mr. Feng, the director of the Student Affairs Office, assigned tasks to everyone. Some would be testing volunteers, and some would deliver the breakfasts and lunches to the only dormitory building, Runyuan, which was located in the residential area. The good news was that the lockdown on the other dormitory building Runxing was lifted. I got the job to deliver breakfasts.

Mr. Feng also asked us to inform the students that out of 80 canteen workers, only 30 could work because most of them lived in building No. 4 in the residential area, which was also locked down. The 30 workers would do their best to provide enough food, but they couldn’t offer as many varieties as usual. We believed that students could understand that.At 9:08 am, a fourth notification came: At 8:00 am on November 15, the CDC confirmed that among the two tubes containing the combined samples of ten people each, one was positive and the other was negative after reexamination, and the one positive case was found. The rest tested negative. At present, under the guidance of the CDC and the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education, emergency prevention and control measures were being taken properly and in a timely manner. “Please continue to actively cooperate with us."

Classes in the afternoon and night resumed, but, they were taught online, and students still had to stay in their dorms.

From 8 am to 7 pm, 5,000 people, including all of the students, teachers, and residents, took the test. It was well-managed, with no panic at all.

At 5:24 pm, a fifth notification was issued: "At present, the testing of all the people living at the school is still in process, and the full results are expected to be completed by 5 am tomorrow. Please take good personal protection measures and do the test as soon as possible. Thank you for your support and cooperation."There was a teacher named Lisa from the Czech Republic. She taught English and didn’t speak Chinese. She was quite confused about the situation and asked for help on the WeChat group. A teacher from my department, Professor Li Xin, offered a hand to explain the situation and tell her how to pick up the purchases she bought online, from the side gate of the school. Another teacher, Wendy, from the US, was helping me to revise my book, The Light and The Darkness: A Brief History Of Western Civilization, which will be published soon by the Peking University Press. I told her what was going on and offered help if she needed it. Fortunately, she and her dog Drum were fine.

Wednesday, November 16

After midnight, I posted a moment on WeChat: "The epigraph to my forthcoming book is from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: ‘When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, and to love.’ I have another two quotations to share tonight: ‘The Sun is new every day,’ by the Greek ‘weeping philosopher’ Heraclitus, and ‘Tomorrow will be another day,’ by Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind.” I finished my post with "We are all working hard and doing what we should do and we should have confidence in tomorrow. I believe that after every storm, there is a rainbow."

The second night was not as cold as the first because I got a quilt and a blanket from the Logistic Service Center of the school, and a student named Cao gave me a nice pillow. Last month, he borrowed a pair of shoes from me for his job interview. I told him, "We happen to have the same size foot. My office is normally open; you can come and take them anytime." Tonight, he returned the favor.

At 7:15 pm, the school issued the last notification: "At 7:00 pm today, the CDC informed us that normal epidemic prevention and control would be resumed in other areas except for Building 18 in the residential area. By fighting together, we will finally conquer the epidemic. Thank you all for your support and cooperation." I forwarded the good news to Wendy on WeChat, and she replied: "Amazing! Well done to the UIR (University of International Relations) community!"

Our school resumed the normal state of epidemic prevention and control after 37 hours. Building 18 would be locked for 3 days until Thursday midnight, and Unit 4 of that building, where the mother who tested positive lived, would be locked for 5 days until Saturday midnight. All the measures were based on the New Guidelines issued by the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism Comprehensive Team of the State Council on November 11.

I posted a message bragging about my midnight wave board riding, my fold-up bed, and the new football shorts and T-shirt. Unexpectedly, Secretary Xing, the top leader of the school, commented: "Thanks for your work. It was an emergency, and I feel sorry the school didn’t provide better accommodation to you." I replied, "I didn’t apply for it because I guessed there wasn’t enough room. Thanks to the school for providing me with a quilt and a blanket. It was an unforgettable experience. Thank you and President Tao, and the Special Working Group. During the past 37 hours, by taking the precise anti-epidemic measures, we not only won the battle of epidemic prevention and control, but also the trust and praise of all our students, teachers, and residents." Today is Wednesday. According to the schedule, our teachers’ team should play against the champions of the Freshman League. "After these unforgettable three days, there will be a lot of work to do. Let's postpone the game until next Wednesday. We just won the battle fighting the epidemic today, and that is what we must do. However, I do not think we must win the next match, because it is a friendly match, and it will be fine even if we lose. The most important thing is to enjoy football, together with our students. By the way, Secretary Xing is a player on our team, and since being promoted from deputy secretary to secretary two weeks ago, he has played with the team much less than before. I hope he will come to the field next week."

The writer is an associate professor and chairman of the Culture and Communications Department, University of International Relations, Beijing, China.