Photo credit: Wint Htae

I never thought COVID-19 would infect those around me. But it did.

The virus struck close to home as I returned from my studies abroad.

Ashley Tan Yu Yi

Published: 27 March 2020, 8:52 PM

I remember sitting in my room last week, serving my self-imposed quarantine after returning from France, when I received a message from a schoolmate from my overseas university.

“Don’t panic,” it read, “But I wanted to let you know that I’ve been tested positive for the virus.”

The first feelings that hit me were disbelief and shock. There had been no known cases of coronavirus in the city that I was studying in, so where or from whom could he have caught the virus from? Was he okay?

And more pressingly… Has anyone else tested positive? Does this mean I might have it too?

All of these thoughts and questions ran through my mind. I had heard of acquaintances being infected, but this was the first friend to test positive for the virus whom I had been in contact with just a few days prior.

Place de la Republique in Paris, a popular spot for yellow-vest protests that continued despite the health crisis till about a week ago. Photo Credit: Ashley Tan Yu Yi

Pursuing part of my undergraduate degree in France for the past year has opened my eyes to a different side of the world and the lifestyle that comes with it. While there have been many positive moments and learning points, I have also had my fair share of frustrations with the French administration.

It is no secret that the French are known for their bureaucracy, which often translates into dilatory responses when it comes to national — or in this case global — issues. In fact, it took the government a relatively long time to announce the closure of schools compared to their European counterparts.

Up till two weeks ago, in-person classes were still ongoing and most campus activities had not been suspended. While this was, at the time, in accordance with instructions from the French health ministry, these social gatherings also inadvertently placed many of us within close proximity of one another.

Me (left) bidding farewell to our seniors at a hastily planned jam music session. Photo Credit: Ashley Tan Yu Yi

I couldn’t sleep that night after receiving the message. My rational side told me to stop fretting, since worrying over things that we cannot control is never of use.

Yet I couldn’t help but wonder if I had been infected too, and if I did, how the virus would affect my loved ones whom I had been in contact with at home.

It sounds dramatic, but the fear was debilitating. I couldn’t concentrate on doing anything other than researching more about the virus and confiding in my friends about my concerns.

A text shared by another schoolmate pretty much summed up our sentiments towards the situation: “These past few days, the only thing that has been on my mind is this stupid virus and how we’re going to get past it.”

My text conversation with a schoolmate from France upon finding out that our friend had tested positive for the virus. Photo Credit: Ashley Tan Yu Yi

Some might say that all of this worry could have been avoided if all of us had been more cautious and ceased group meetups in light of the health crisis. However, the situation in Europe two weeks ago was not as alarming and serious as now, given that the upward trend of positive cases had barely just started then.

Moreover, with our seniors leaving the school at short notice, and the short notice given to us to leave France for our home countries given impending travel restrictions, any farewell event would need to be held immediately.

Of course, not all situations are as excusable. There have been other youths who have participated in social activities, like clubbing despite warnings from authorities not to.

On the other hand, there have also been other overseas Singaporean students who have voluntarily opted to stay home for 14 days, despite coming back before the compulsory notices were implemented.

Me (right) with a Singaporean university schoolmate, armed with masks and hand sanitisers on our flight home on Mar 14. Photo Credit: Ashley Tan Yu Yi

Another close Singaporean friend who recently tested positive for COVID-19 after coming back from the UK also took it upon himself to inform his friends via text and Instagram about his situation so that others could monitor their health and take precautionary measures as well.

COVID-19 has hit closer to home than I ever could have imagined. However, if there is anything that I have learned, it is that we need to do our part by being socially responsible.

While we should be grateful for an efficient government that is doing its best to ensure that life goes on despite the mounting crisis, each of us has to take active steps in maintaining our hygiene and keeping a safe distance to avoid the further spread of this virus.


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