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South African couple share a first-hand account of living in China during the Novel Coronavirus outbreak.


Xinyang, Henan Province, China (29 February 2020) – An outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first reported from Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread within China and to other countries, including Nigeria.

The novel coronavirus has killed more than 2,900 people worldwide, the vast majority in mainland China. There have been more than 85,000 global cases, with infections in every continent except Antarctica. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the outbreak has reached the “highest level” of risk for the world, with the director-general warning it can go in “any direction.”

While there are many outside perceptions & differing reports being shared on many issues surrounding the 2019-nCoV, Taryn and Karun Murugan, have decided to share their personal experiences from the epicentre of the Novel Coronavirus outbreak

Taryn chatted with Good Things Guy about the current situation in Xinyang, Henan Province to try to dispell some myths and give South Africans who are worried about their loved ones, a different perspective.

“My husband & I are South Africans who have been living in China for five years. We spent the last 3.5 years in Xinyang, Henan Province. So, when we share our experiences, it’s in line with our personal interactions, discoveries and conclusions, as we undoubtedly consider China as our second home.

Unlike the generalisation by many of the Chinese, we have seen, heard & felt only warmth, generosity & camaraderie by all of the people of China. This has been even more strongly felt and displayed by all of the Chinese people, especially, during this very trying time in China, with the battle of the 2019-nCoV coming to surface.”

Chinese New Year

The couple both teach at Xinyang Normal University. Traditionally, the University Staff and students arrange very flamboyant gala events, recitals with song & dance, extravagant dinners with elaborate gifts fro Chinese New Year and this year was no different!

The Department Heads, Deans, CCP Leaders, Assistants, and general staff of Xinyang Normal University pulled out all the stops.

Taryn explained that the students shared their holiday plans with so much enthusiasm. Some of them had not seen their families in 4months or more, and this reunion was going to be absolutely spectacular.

“You could feel the thrill & excitement in their voices. After all, Chinese Spring Festival is a time of festivities, migration of individuals from all parts of China to their homes, meeting of families over extravagant meals, lots of laughter, giving & receiving of Red Packets – Cash in Envelopes – and dressing up in their finest.”

This year, Chinese New Year fell on Saturday 25th January 2020. About a week earlier, the spread of Corona Virus was detected in Wuhan.

“The outbreak became so rapid that Xinyang went into lockdown from 25th January 2020 – on that fateful day, the entire Nation was deprived of a joyous New Year celebration. All modes of transportations were affected: flights cancelled, trains, buses, public & private taxis stopped their services. All businesses closed their doors; street vendors were nowhere in sight.

That day we went downtown, it was painful!

The streets were desolate; businesses were closed, shelves still fully stocked, loads of unsold Chinese New Year Decorations & the few people we can across were subdued and sombre, this broke our hearts! Xinyang was reduced to a ghost town. Very sad indeed, and it remains like that. Understandably, these are all the necessary steps in containing the contamination.”


At the onset of the Outbreak in Wuhan, the overly concerned University Staff made several personal calls to check on all their teachers and our individual wellbeing. Lots of precautionary measures were shared.

We were immediately notified to:

  • Remain Indoors
  • Avoid Crowds
  • Report on our movements
  • Advise them if we have any special needs
  • Wear Masks, SHOULD we step out the apartment (only by prior arrangements)
  • To maintain our safety, that travel plans be either Changed or Cancelled
  • Practice the necessary hygienic routines of not rubbing our eyes & washing our hands
  • Use the main entrance, where our temperatures are taken when we depart the University, & again upon re-entry.
  • Face Masks were hand-delivered for use (Only required when outdoors)

While all of this may be restrictive, Taryn explains that they were quite comfortable and respected that there were necessary steps for the safety of everyone, in curtailing unnecessary infections.


The couple actually appreciated being homebound as it has given them the time to speak more often to their families back home.

“We correct the misconceptions and havoc that the foreign media has caused.

Our mums are 86, and 92 years old respectively, they worry about everything; now, more than anything else, as there is constant negative news in the headlines. We’ve asked that they, and hoards of our friends and family, to stop watching the news and not believe everything that the media presents.

We are comfortable, happy and safe and that’s all that matters! They seek comfort from hearing that in our voices & can see us on the many video calls that we share.”

Daily, the Murugans receive updated reports via WeChat, tons of motivational videos, local & international developments, flight movements & the government share many new rules & regulations.

All of this information has just kept them believing just how strong the Chinese Nation is.

Innovation and Developments

Taryn has witnessed first-hand how the government and people of China have put measures in place and continue to be proactive against the spread of the outbreak.

“These are just some of the things that we recall; each aspect stirs up the excitement of witnessing the power of the people to move mountains. It’s in action, here in China.” 

She shared 18 points with us as listed below:

  1. 2 hospitals being built in over 10 days
  2. 5G Robots being used to supply medication to patients
  3. Transportation of medical supplies using Robotic Vehicles
  4. Online platform – Working from home or wherever people travelled during Spring Festival
  5. Alibaba offering free communication tool to 10 million businesses, encouraging E-Commerce
  6. A court trial taking place online via a group video call (Shandong Province)
  7. Mask making business resuming production during the Spring Festival, when staff were supposed to be on leave
  8. Simple & ordinary individuals donating money, anonymously towards this cause
  9. Tons of Food dropped off at the steps of the hospital
  10. A coffee shop supplying hundreds of cups of coffee, daily, free of charge to the doctors and nurses
  11. Robot detecting body temperature & whether a mask is being worn from 5 meters away (Guangzhou)
  12. 3D Printing of Masks
  13. Meituan Home Deliveries – fewer cars on the roads
  14. Chinese Dama (Dancing Ladies) who have been hospitalised, using dance to keep active and lift the spirits high, amongst patients, doctors and nurses.
  15. Foreigners – some return to China during the Lockdown to Volunteer, while others make music videos, paint posters, keep online feeds updated & spread the Positivity
  16. 19 additional makeshift hospitals are being erected
  17. Convention Centres & Gyms are being converted to accommodate the infected
  18. Cruise liners have offered for the use of their cabins free of charge, for an overnight stay to the many doctors and nursing crew, who have volunteered their services

The Murugans know that the outbreak is severe but the Chinese nation keep giving them hope.

“While all this may sound bleak, there’s just a constant positive reminder that even after the long winter, the sun will always shine Brightly.

Your warmth, strength & unity of the great Chinese Nation will definitely ride this storm, and we await your victorious return.

We love China & stand strong with you all the way.”

Sources: Interview with Taryn and Karun Murugan | Novel Coronavirus 
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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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