Alson Cai was hoping to resume her studies at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), next week.  But like so many international students, she’s stuck in China because of the deadly outbreak of coronavirus.

Alson, a second-year journalism student, filed this photo essay from the city of Shantou, the economic centre of Guangdong Province on China’s eastern coast.

It’s just over 1000 kms by road (12 hours drive) from Wuhan, where the virus was first identified.


MARCH 4: It has been two months since the outbreak of the coronavirus. 

When will life return to normal?

That’s the issue of most concern in everyone’s mind.

For international students stuck in China, the other issue bothering us is; when will we be allowed to go back to Australia?


Students like Alson are required to take online classes at home.



Fuwen Lin is studying rural and urban planning at Nanjing University. She says taking online classes can meet the demands of the theoretical courses, but it will be a problem if they need to use the materials at school to draw blueprints or build models.

All the competitions that the University planned to hold during the semester, are also cancelled.

“We were supposed to go back to school by the 17th of February, but after the outbreak of the coronavirus, the school announced that it would not open until March,” she explained.

“And now we still don’t know when we can go back to school.”



In the city of Shantou, businesses and streets remain closed with no precise re-opening date.

Epidemic prevention barriers (above) are set at certain spots in the city to check the temperature of passersby.

And some roads leading to housing estates have been blocked, preventing access.

*Red shopfront notice: “We are temporarily closed to combat the coronavirus together” (Photos: Alson Cai)


Although some shopping malls have re-opened and people have started to leave their homes, there are very few customers. 

While Shantou “Old Community”, which attracts over 10,000 tourists every day during the Spring Festival, presents a scene of emptiness.

(Photos L & R: Alson Cai. Below: Wei Zhang)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially named the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2″ (SARS-CoV-2), but it is the disease it causes – “coronavirus disease” (COVID-19) – that’s more commonly reported.

It was first identified in Wuhan last December, one of the most densely populated cities in Central China. By January 30, it was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The WHO is providing rolling updates on its spread, while the Australian Government is also posting daily alerts.