PJC grad in China

David Wickersham, his wife, Vikki, and their son, Bruce, live in Haikou, China, which is under quarantine for the coronavirus. Wickersham is from Paris.

It’s been about two weeks past the date that most shops and schools were supposed to reopen after the annual Spring Festival in Haikou, China. But the cause for the delay is far from festive. Instead, the city is under strict lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Haikou, capital of the island province Hainan, is the home of David Wickersham, a Paris Junior College graduate with roots in Paris. He and his family — wife, Vikki, and their young son, Bruce — are navigating day-to-day life in a country crippled by an international public health emergency.

The coronavirus has infected more than 67,000 people globally, the vast majority in mainland China. The death toll is over 1,520, CNN reported Friday.

In Wickersham’s province, there are 162 confirmed cases of the virus. There are 33 confirmed cases in Haikou.

Wickersham first began receiving news about the virus a few days before the Chinese Spring Festival, he said. Friends and family were just getting off work for the holiday; he and his friends were ready to relax, spend time together and do some traveling.

“We were like, ‘oh, it’s probably not a big deal.’ And the next day, the news started hitting pretty heavy, telling people ‘don’t go out,’” Wickersham said in a Skype interview.

Within about a week or so of initial reports, officials began shutting down travel around the country. Shops began to close. Buses, trains and flights were all canceled. Roads were blocked.

During a time when a projected 8 million people would be traveling to their hometowns to celebrate the new year, the virus seemed like a vague threat.

“At the beginning, people kind of put traveling, being together with family, the Spring Festival tradition ahead of the news of the virus,” Wickersham said. “But it’s gotten more serious. More people started to take it seriously after a week or so.”

Now, weeks into the epidemic, peoples’ attitudes have changed.

“By now, pretty much everything is shut down,” Wickersham said.

Every city district in Haikou is under strict lockdown, he said. In the apartment complexes in Wickersham’s district, only one household member can leave once every two days to gather food and supplies. To leave the building, tenants must have an official permit. If a policeman stops you without this permit, you can be arrested, he said.

“You have to follow the rules pretty strictly,” Wickersham said.

Wickersham has lived in China for almost 10 years and in Haikou for seven. He speaks about the virus matter-of-factly.

“Personally, I’m not really that nervous,” he said.

“We’ve got plenty of food and stuff at home.”

Most of the supermarket chains are still delivering groceries, so the family can order things online and have them delivered to their home, Wickersham said. He’s keeping busy with work; a local English teacher, he’s preparing lessons for when students return to school.

Some of his friends haven’t been so lucky. While Wickersham doesn’t know anyone personally who contracted the virus, some of his friends were traveling for the Spring Festival. They are now blocked from returning home due to road closures and travel bans, he said.

Wickersham’s family in China is safe and healthy, and he keeps in touch with his family in the U.S. frequently, he said. He also reads news from the U.S. from time to time, he said.

“What little I have seen is kind of sensationalizing the virus,” he said. “I mean, it’s a serious issue. But luckily, I’m in a pretty safe area.”

As for a final message to friends and family:

“Tell everybody we’re safe, everybody’s healthy; my wife, Vikki, and my son, Bruce, we’re all doing good,” Wickersham said. “Don’t need to worry too much about us.”

Macon Atkinson is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6963 or macon.atkinson@theparisnews.com.

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