Students from Wuhan organize to send medical supplies home

Touched by outbreak, students take action by fundraising, donating supplies

A photo provided to The Journal of a young woman in Wuhan cutting her hair to be able to fit into a hazmat suit.
Confidentially provided
Zhongshan street in Wuhan, usually one of the busiest streets in the City, deserted following the Jan. 23 lockdown.
Confidentially provided
Grocerty stores in Wuhan running out of stock as citizens prepare for lockdown.
Confidentially provided

Queen’s students Hedi Zhou, LifeSci ’21, and Yaxuan Li, BEd ’20, spent Christmas break with their families in Wuhan. A month later, they’re gathering medical supplies to send back home.

The City of Wuhan, China, was put on lockdown on Jan. 23 amidst an outbreak of coronavirus. More than nine million people are unable to leave the city, which is experiencing a shortage of medical supplies along with other cities in the Hubei province. Both Zhou’s and Li’s families have been touched by the outbreak.

“My family cannot go outdoors,” Li said. “I feel really helpless because I’m so far away. I want to help and be with my family.”

In recent weeks, the two decided to turn their feelings of helplessness into action by advocating for medical supplies to be sent to Wuhan to fight the epidemic. “We started getting news from friends who work in the hospitals [in Wuhan] saying doctors don’t have proper supplies to keep them from being infected,” Zhou said. “That’s when we had to step in.”

Zhou and Li have partnered with the Queen’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association (QCSSA) to source donations and supplies. On Friday, Zhou posted in Facebook group Overheard at Queen’s calling for medical-grade face masks, medical safety goggles, protective eyewear, and hazmat or medical protective suits.

As of Sunday night, the two said they had secured 1,000 hazmat suits that will be sent to hospitals in Wuhan. Zhou and Li also made a connection between QCSSA and Wuhan Britain-China School, where they both went to high school, to collect supplies.

“We are working in two directions,” Li said. Once they find supplies, they have to contact hospitals in Wuhan to make sure the supplies are qualified for use. They’re also fundraising.

“In China, most of the medical-grade masks are already in use. All the Chinese companies have been commissioned by the government, but the current supply is only one-tenth of the need.”

Li said it’s been difficult for the two to get accurate information from the region in recent weeks. “There was not enough information or much news coverage,” Li said. “The public remained really unaware of what was going on.”

Zhou said communications around the outbreak by Chinese officials are lacking. “People heard about it, but there was no confirmation from the government. We weren’t concerned in early January.”

The death toll is now at 56, and cases have been confirmed in Canada, the United States, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. The lockdown has been extended beyond Wuhan throughout the province, and now encompasses 56 million people.

According to Zhou, people, including her family and friends in Wuhan, only began to panic when it was confirmed by a doctor involved in the 2003 SARS epidemic that the virus could be spread by human-to-human transmission.

“The hospitals had crazy numbers of patients being diagnosed with this, but there was a month between when people didn’t know what was going on,” Li said.

Li told The Journal doctors were concerned that her father, hospitalized recently due to a long-term lung problem, might have contracted the virus. Fortunately, he was cleared.

Zhou’s mother, a virologist, is researching the  new strain of the virus. 

“When you realize your family is part of it, you become really concerned,” Li said. Her best friend’s mother is currently working at one of Wuhan’s largest hospitals.

“[My friend] is panicking,” Li said. “Any second, her mom can be infected.”

While neither of them personally know anyone who has died from the outbreak, both of their parents have friends who have been infected. Li said one of her father’s friends was one of the first confirmed deaths in early January.

Although much safer from contracting the virus in Kingston, Zhou and Li said they still feel the effects from back home. They expressed frustration about the uncertainty surrounding how long the lockdown will last.

According to Li, the highway connecting Wuhan to the rest of the province and country was shut down on Jan. 24, and public transit has been halted in the city.

Just as Zhou and Li are worried for their families, with the news the virus spreading to Canada, their families worry for them. “My mom saw the news and was panicking,” Li said. “They are in a more severe situation [in Wuhan], but they’re still worried about us.”

“At Queen’s, we are monitoring the situation carefully and will inform the community if any additional precautions are necessary,” the University said in a Monday statement.

Meanwhile, in China, Zhou and Li say people from Wuhan have begun to experience discrimination. “Because they know Wuhan is the centre of the virus, people say they don’t want Wuhan people in their city,” Li said. “It’s gotten extreme. People say they hate people from Wuhan.”

Zhou and Li are worried the prejudice may follow them to Kingston. “We don’t feel comfortable,” Li admitted. “We’re from [Wuhan]. We don’t want to be targeted that we’re spreading the virus.”

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