BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - The autumn weather is glorious, a week-long holiday is coming up, but fears of the H1N1 flu are keeping many Chinese students in their dorms these days.
Schools in Xi‘an, a northwestern city that has seen heavy flu outbreaks, the port city of Tianjin and the northern province of Heilongjiang have shut temporarily to try and halt the spread of the virus, and the students are akin to prisoners.
The October 1 holiday is a week-long national vacation that normally sees Chinese streaming to scenic spots and historic sites, but this year, a lot of people are going nowhere.
The bars of the school gate separated Zhang Li, a senior at a university near Xi‘an, from her parents when they visited last week, bringing quilts for the colder weather.
The students at her school have been confined to campus since September 11, after one student came down with H1N1.
“My parents came from quite a distance but they could only stand outside the school gate handing all the things they brought to me through the gate,” Zhang said.
Zhang and her classmates may attend classes and sports events, but can only eat at campus cafeterias. Shuttles bring faculty and staff to the campus every day.
“I have much more spare time now for movies and soap operas on TV,” Zhang said.
China’s Health Minister Chen Zhu warned this month that the beginning of the school year and the cooler weather could help the H1N1 virus spread more rapidly in China, which has not yet had a fatal case.
The numbers are climbing rapidly, with 14,581 cases reported as of Wednesday, of which 10,218 have recovered.
“My friend studying in Xi‘an is complaining on QQ that she cannot go anywhere off campus, not to eat or even for a little walk,” said Hu Die, a student who hails from Xi‘an, referring to a popular online chat program.
“She had to stock up on dry provisions like biscuits and pies the last time she went shopping.”
Even some students who aren’t stuck in their dorms are taking the flu into account when making plans for the break.
“My mom warned me against traveling when she called me recently. I will take H1N1 into account when considering where to go during the golden week,” said Zhang Jing, a journalism graduate student at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Other students are taking a more sanguine approach, like one senior, who declined to be named, from Tsinghua’s department of Chinese language and literature who planned to take TOEFL courses during the one-week holiday to improve her English.
“You will either be infected or you won‘t,” she said, adding that there have been so many cases that seems pointless to worry.
“Nothing can stop me if I really want a trip somewhere,” her roommate echoed.
Students who want to go home for the break share her determination, even if their destination is hard-hit Xi‘an.
Long lines of students waited at ticket windows this weekend, proving to be a bigger obstacle than the threat of flu.
“It’s almost impossible to buy a train ticket during this period,” said Zhao Yu, a senior at Tsinghua who doesn’t plan to go anywhere for the break.
Reporting by Beijing Newsroom, editing by Lucy Hornby and Miral Fahmy