This South African has been quarantined for weeks. He doesn’t mind spending time alone, but these days he finds himself more and more puzzled by people, their habits, and strangely their attitude towards pens. This is part two of our series of first-hand accounts. 


We queue for food in three long lines every morning, noon and night. There’s one line for each block of student flats. The queues snake out from one small rectangular table manned by the masked men the university employed to bring us food.

We were warned to keep our distance from the food delivery guys and each other, but it’s still too close for my liking. 

You have to have your temperature taken before you’re allowed to get your food. It’s one of those thermometers they use at airports. Sometimes there’s no one manning the scanner, and then you have to take your own temperature.

I hope I’ve been doing it right. 

If your temperature is too high, they scan you a few times to make sure you have a fever before they take you to the hospital.

Then, there’s the pen.  Everyone has to sign next to their name, and to write down their temperature. 

I see everyone else is relaxed about this pen. Don’t they think about how many people touch it every day?  Must be hundreds. 

Everyone signs their name with that pen like it’s nothing.  Most days I can’t get back to my room quick enough to scrub my hands.

We haven’t been given any hand-sanitiser, so I made my own. 

As soon as I get back to my room I scrub my hands like a mad man.  Even the holder that the food comes in. 

Watch: Soap, space and sanitiser – How to protect yourself from the new coronavirus

“Yoh, bra, you’re going crazy,” one of my Moroccan friends said over text the other day. 

Someone was taken away at breakfast the other day. I had just returned to my room to eat that same old meal when I heard it happening. 

That guy could have been behind me in the queue. Did he use the pen to write down his name, I wondered? 

I’ve been watching people. And I’ve noticed something. When people are around strangers, they’re extra careful. They keep their masks* that the Chinese government issued on and keep their distance. 

But when they’re around their friends, they’re not even that phased about masks. 

Where do these people come from? It’s like they think the virus looks at them and thinks, ‘oh no, these people are friends, let me leave them alone’. 

Read more from our series of #QuarantineChronicles from South Africans living in Wuhan’s quarantine.

*An ordinary mask, such as those bought from pharmacies, won’t protect you from getting infected with COVID-19. Masks do, however, help to prevent people who are infected with the virus, from spreading it to others. Read more here. 

This entry is part of a series of first-hand accounts from inside the epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak called “Quarantine Chronicles”.  Joan van Dyk compiled this first-hand account from an extensive telephonic interview with a South African in China, who spoke on condition of anonymity, and was dubbed “Student from Wuhan”.