French student Instagrams life in Wuhan under coronavirus quarantine

Amélie Chapalain, a French student stuck in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been placed under quarantine because of a coronavirus outbreak, posts regular updates on her Instagram account.
Amélie Chapalain, a French student stuck in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been placed under quarantine because of a coronavirus outbreak, posts regular updates on her Instagram account.

Amélie Chapalain, a French student in Wuhan, China, has been taking to Instagram to tell the world what it’s like to live in the city, which was put under quarantine by Chinese officials after the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Chapalain has been studying international relations at the University of Wuhan for the past four years. Earlier this month, Chinese authorities quarantined Wuhan and three other cities after 80 people died and at least 2,700 fell ill with the new coronavirus. Chapalain has been posting on Instagram about what it is like to live in a quarantined city.

In this story posted on Instagram, French student Amélie Chapalain films the empty streets of Wuhan as she rides along on the back of a scooter. She notes that the trash is still being collected.


"We’re keeping fit - even under quarantine!" Chapalain says in this Instagram story that shows her doing exercises with friends. She wears a mask, even when she is just hanging out with friends.

Almost all the shops in Wuhan are closed. Photo by our Observer Amélie Chapalain.


READ ON THE OBSERVERS >> Videos from Wuhan, ‘ground zero’ of the coronavirus

French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn announced on Sunday that any French citizens living in Wuhan who wanted to be repatriated back to France would be able to do so later this week. When they arrive in France, they will need to stay in a quarantine facility for 14 days-- the estimated incubation period for the virus.   


“I’m putting it in perspective: I’m healthy, I’m at home and I still have food”

Chapalain spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers on Jan. 28. She still hasn’t decided if she wants to sign up for repatriation or not:


We still don’t have enough information about it. We would have to spend two weeks in quarantine but we still don’t know where. We don’t know if we’d have to pay for our tickets. And it is totally possible that, two weeks from now, everything will be back to normal and we would have gone through all that for nothing.

Shortages of food and water

Daily life isn’t easy for people trapped in Wuhan. Chapalain posted videos of the rush to stock up on food when the town was put under quarantine, and the now-empty streets. Most supermarkets in Wuhan are closed. The few that remain open often have empty shelves.

People rushed to the supermarket when Wuhan was first put under quarantine.

Chapalain took this photo a few days after the town was quarantined. These days, supermarket shelves are almost always empty.


The government does restock supermarkets but everything is sold really quickly.  This morning, the supermarkets had vegetables for sale. I went this afternoon and, by then, there was nothing left. The meat was gone. We are afraid that we’ll have nothing left. The water situation is also complicated. You can’t drink water from the tap in China, so you have to boil it to drink it.

My university pushed back the start of the semester to late February, but they don’t really know when they will be able to reopen. In the meantime, they are trying to help students as best they can. Tomorrow, they are going to start to hand out packaged meals to students who haven’t been able to buy food.

The University of Wuhan has also given students masks, which are sold out across the city, and flu medicine.


Flu symptoms are similar to coronavirus symptoms. Some people go to the hospital, thinking that they have coronavirus, when they really just have the flu. But then sometimes they actually end up getting infected with the virus at the hospital.

In these videos, Chapalain explains that finding food can be difficult and she is happy when she manages to get some milk, pasta and bread-- it’s not much but “she’ll be able to live a few more days,” she half-jokes. She also shows the flu medicine and the masks that she got from her university.


"When I see my friends, we keep our masks on”

Chapalain was supposed to go on vacation but she cancelled her tickets. She explains that the whole situation happened suddenly.


In late December, the Wuhan market was shut down. We knew that someone had gotten sick, but we still didn’t know that it was a virus. We’ve only really known what is going on for about ten days. The university started sending out emails, instructing us to wear masks and stay at home.

After that, everything happened really quickly. Last week, there were lots of rumours that the government was going to quarantine the town. The next day, all of the train stations and airports were shut down.

Chapalain is in constant contact with her family, who are back in France. She has refused to succumb to the panic about the outbreak.


We’ve set up a WhatsApp group with the French consulate so we are well-informed. Some French people living here are really frustrated. We are just waiting for this to be over.

The hardest thing is the boredom. I spend my days watching movies. We are all getting a little paranoid. I don’t see my friends very often and, when we do get together, we keep our masks on. We don’t know what the other people have been doing, who they’ve been around. We wash our hands as soon as we get home. Considering how bad the situation is, it’s better to be careful.

Article written by Marie Genries