Lebanese student Adham Al Sayed is using Facebook to provide Arabic-speakers around the globe with a window into life under quarantine in Wuhan, the town in China at the heart of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Five years ago, Al Sayed left his hometown, Barja, which is located about 30 kilometres south of Beirut, Lebanon, to study at the Wuhan University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China. He’s lived in the city ever since.
The new virus known as Covid-19 was first identified in Wuhan in late December 2019. On January 23, 2020, Chinese officials placed the entire city under quarantine as Covid-19 continued to spread. The very next day, Al Sayed took to Facebook to share what life was like under quarantine and his posts immediately started circulating across the Arab world.
At first, Al Sayed was angry that the Lebanese government hadn’t decided to repatriate its nationals who were trapped in Wuhan. However, on the fifth day of the quarantine, he posted a long statement explaining that he had decided to stay in Wuhan.
"It’s like there is a war going on in Wuhan"
The France 24 Observers team contacted the 36-year-old student after he spoke to our sister radio station Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya (MCD). He told us his story:
When the Chinese government put Wuhan under quarantine, I decided that there was no reason for me to leave. The World Health Organization has been saying since the very first day of the quarantine that there was no need for countries to repatriate all of their citizens. I trust them. Moreover, a lot of countries [like Lebanon], wouldn’t have the means to deal with this epidemic if it started spreading at the same rate it has within China. So there’s no reason for me to leave.
It feels like there is a war going on in Wuhan. Store shelves are empty and there are only phantoms left roaming the streets. I lived through war in Lebanon and in Syria and you could see the consequences of the fighting around you. It’s different with Covid-19 because the enemy is invisible and it is everywhere.
Explaining the situation in Wuhan to Arabic-speakers
At the same time, he also noticed that there was a lot of information circulating about the outbreak on Arabic-language social media that he felt didn’t properly represent what it was really like to live under quarantine in Wuhan.
He decided to tell his own story and started filming videos on his cellphone whenever he left his home, wearing his mask.
When I realised that I wouldn’t be putting my life in danger by going out, I decided to start showing the world what it was like to live under quarantine, without making it seem better or worse than it actually is.
I don’t edit my videos, I just livestream to Facebook. My videos show the empty streets and closed businesses, but they also show that there aren’t people falling down and dying in the streets from this virus.
"I haven’t left home for four days”
Al Sayed, who is studying quantitative economics, also often posts diagrams and charts in Arabic that explain the Covid-19 outbreak through numbers and data that he gets from the World Health Organization and the Chinese National Health Commission. He has over 2,000 followers.
I try to go out so as to record daily life in the city. I usually go out around 4pm before the curfew takes effect. Usually shops are closed by 5pm. However, I haven’t left my home in the past four days.
The restrictions become a lot tougher on the 14th day of quarantine. On the 16th day, the authorities told us that we should only leave our homes once every three days. The students living in student accommodation don’t leave their rooms at all. They provide the administration with a list of their needs and the administration then delivers the items. It’s also now forbidden to go out without a protective mask.