On March 18, College and Wharton first-year Yuwei Guo was all set to leave Penn for the semester. She caught a flight to her native Beijing, China that day — but she didn't actually return home until April 2.
She was placed in quarantine in a Beijing hotel upon landing in China and was moved to an emergency hospital the following week after learning that the attendant on her flight tested positive for coronavirus. Guo was alone and unable to leave the hotel or hospital during the two-week period.
Guo is one of many international students who were placed in quarantine upon returning home after Penn asked students to vacate campus to prevent the spread of the virus. The forced quarantines prompted confusion and uncertainty, causing students to worry about how they would keep up with their schoolwork and maintain their health.
After landing in Beijing, Guo said she was transported to another province to be tested for the coronavirus. She was then taken back to Beijing, where she was forced to quarantine alone. Although her parents arrived to meet her at the airport, Guo said government officials only allowed them to wave.
In the hotel, Guo said there were cameras on her doors and 24-hour staff stationed on each floor to monitor her and the other residents, making sure they did not leave. Every day, she had to report her temperature and record any symptoms she experienced or people she came into contact with through a device monitored by the government.
On March 30, once it was discovered that the attendant on her flight tested positive, Guo was given one hour to pack up her belongings and was transported by ambulance to a hospital.
Guo spent several days quarantined in the hospital, where she said she lived in poor conditions. She was only allowed minimal human contact — hospital staff left food outside her door to avoid any interaction.
“No noise, no voices, no one. It’s just really scary," Guo said when she was in the hospital. "I’m really alone."
Every day in the hospital, Guo had to take her temperature twice and disinfect her room. Internet service was slow, so she emailed her professors to reschedule her online exams.
Guo was released from the hospital on April 2 and is now staying at home with her parents, where she only leaves the house, wearing a face mask, when necessary. She isn't allowed to leave or re-enter her neighborhood without a license, but she said that some businesses are starting to reopen as China slows the spread of the virus.
"Life is on pause here for everyone," Guo said. "It definitely doesn't feel normal, but you can feel life getting back on track."
Also subject to a 14-day quarantine, Wharton junior Aashna Jain is unable to leave her home in Surat, India.
Twice per day, she has to submit her location to government officials with a selfie confirming she is inside. She said an official comes to check on her once or twice a day, and a security guard is stationed in the apartment building. If she is caught attempting to leave, she could be fined and forced to quarantine in a state hospital.
Jain said that the city government is taking more intense preventative action with people coming from abroad because of weaknesses in India’s healthcare system.
“If [India] were to reach an Italy or New York like situation, people would die like flies,” Jain said.
Although she said that she suffered from boredom over spring break and misses on-campus classes, she said she is fortunate that she will be able to keep up with her academic work.
“I’m very privileged that I have a room to myself, a desk, and a laptop with very good internet connection,” Jain said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a nationwide state of lockdown on March 24. Jain wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that her parents are now home with her during the day due to the closure of non-essential businesses, and they can only leave to buy groceries at specific times.
College sophomore William Xie is in a 14-day quarantine in Shanghai, China. He and his family are locked in their home with a surveillance device on the door that will signal police if they attempt to leave.
Xie was placed in quarantine after arriving from San Francisco, where he spent his spring break. He said he decided to fly home after learning that Penn asked students to leave campus.
Because of travel restrictions, his journey home lasted three days — much longer, he said, than the 10 or 11 hours a direct flight would’ve taken. He first flew to Taipei, Taiwan in order to avoid flying through Japan or Korea, where there were more cases of the coronavirus, and was held in the airport for a 14-hour layover during which he was not allowed to leave.
When he arrived in Shanghai, Xie said he went through a complex series of health screening procedures and interviews with health, security, and immigration officials.
The interrogation procedure contrasts heavily with American airport practices. The New York Times reported that there are no mandatory quarantines imposed on people arriving in the United States from abroad, and there are less rigorous screening procedures.
He was then bussed to a hospital to be tested for the coronavirus, where he tested negative.
“It’s a good thing because, in America, it’s very hard to get one of those tests right now,” Xie said.
Coronavirus tests are free and accessible in China, Business Insider reported.
Xie stayed overnight in a government hotel reserved for suspected coronavirus patients while his test results were being processed. After testing negative, he was sent home to quarantine with his family for 14 days.
Xie said that he gets food now through a mix of groceries his family stocked up on before the quarantine and deliveries. In order to receive packages, security officials, dressed in white hazmat suits, deliver food to him through windows.
He said that his biggest challenges are maintaining his physical health and keeping up with schoolwork. He will not be able to watch his lectures live because of the time-zone differences, and his videos have long buffer times because of his distance from American servers.
Despite these challenges, Xie said he and most of his fellow international student friends are glad to be home and feel safe because China has slowed the spread of the virus.
“I think everybody’s experience was pretty crazy but most everyone I know is happy to be back,” he said.