Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Coronavirus: The Scottish teacher staying put in 'ghost town' Beijing

Chloe Sandilands Image copyright Chloe Sandilands
Image caption Chloe Sandilands from Rosyth moved to Beijing to teach English

In a city of 21.5 million people - one of the largest in the world - Chloe Sandilands did not expect to find herself with little to do.

"It's just so quiet," she said. "I've just been spending a lot of time drinking with my friends.

"We're the only people out and the bars are almost dead."

Image caption The streets of Beijing, one of the busiest cities in the world, are conspicuously quiet

The 22-year-old Scot moved to Beijing to teach English in the private sector in September, four months before the coronavirus outbreak.

It was a move outside her comfort zone, but a welcome one during a post-university lull - which saw her working part-time in a takeaway near her home in Rosyth, Fife.

While a large number of people have left China - partly for the Lunar New Year - many British migrants are staying put until they know more, including Chloe.

She said that even though the Foreign Office has advised Brits to leave the country if they can, travelling would be too much of a "financial burden".

She added: "I'm still not looking to go unless we're pulled out. It would be too great a disruption to my life, so I'm comfortable taking health precautions and waiting this out."

Image copyright Chloe Sandilands
Image caption Chloe works for a private firm that has halted classes since the coronavirus outbreak

After moving to the sprawling Chinese capital, Chloe swiftly made friends and settled into a flat near Chaoyang Park with three American flatmates.

But her new bustling way of life came grinding to a halt as the city packed up for Chinese New Year.

"News of the coronavirus came at an odd time," she said. "We were looking forward to a week off work and were thinking there was so much we could do.

"The roads are always packed and it's usually hard to get anywhere - Beijing has over 20 million people in it but now there's just nobody."

Image caption Temperature checks are carried out before passengers board subway trains

Beijing is more than 700 miles from the centre of the outbreak, Wuhan, where the entire city has essentially been quarantined - a move unprecedented anywhere in the world.

There are more than 20,000 confirmed cases around the world, most of them in China - officials say 425 people have died there along with one fatality in Hong Kong. Another death has been confirmed in the Philippines.

Measures have been implemented to stop the spread of the virus in Beijing too, which recorded its first fatality more than a week ago.

Commuters now face temperature checks at subway stations while authorities have advised everyone to wear surgical masks - a habit that has become increasingly common among east Asian countries since the 2002 Sars outbreak.

Chloe says that while she has not heard of any further deaths in the city, she does see the adverse effect the public health emergency is having on people's lives.

"I think because it's been 'bigged up' it is scary," she said. "China is under pressure to respond to this outbreak because of the feeling about Sars - now the world is watching.

"Businesses have stayed closed. You can't do anything and everyone is scared. It's like a ghost town."

Image copyright Chloe Sandilands
Image caption Since the Chinese New Year Chloe says there is little to do apart from go out with friends

The company Chloe works for has halted classes and is exploring the possibility of staff teaching pupils online.

She is still earning a wage but is concerned about her ability to pay bills long-term - particularly as two of her flatmates are planning to leave the country.

But despite the uncertainty, Chloe - the youngest member of her household - has attempted to keep her flatmates in good spirits.

Image copyright Chloe Sandilands

"I'm trying to focus on who is here and enjoy the time I have with them," she said. "My flatmates always say I keep them young.

"I think it's important to go through life with a sense of humour.

"But I am concerned because so many people are going home. Schools are complete germ factories and I am at a massive risk. I have 160 students so if I get sick they're all at risk."

Knowing the potential scope of the virus or how long the public health emergency will last is still to be determined.

While it may appear the number of cases has soared, the numbers may reflect China's improving ability to find infected people.

To complicate matters, estimates by the University of Hong Kong suggest the true total number of cases could be far higher than official figures suggest.

But like many others, Chloe wants to wait until the situation becomes clearer before making a decision.

She said: "I'm keeping an eye on what's going on and trying to have my wits about me.

"If there are more deaths, or if the situation gets more serious, that could change. But I don't want to leave, I have a life here."

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