IT can often be hard for families when loved ones move to the other side of the world.

And, when a crisis such as coronavirus strikes, every mile apart can feel especially difficult for those ‘left behind.’

That has been the reality for Barrhead nurse Hilary Smith, whose son Matthew lives in Suzhou, China, just shy of 500 miles from Wuhan – the original epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Glasgow Times:

She could only watch on from a distance as China was overwhelmed by the virus, leaving her concerned for the welfare of Matthew, his wife Chrissy and their three-year-old son Ollie.

Hilary, 66, told the Barrhead News: “Since the end of last year, when Matthew and his family returned to China after spending Christmas with us, it has been a very trying and worrying time.

“I was relieved to an extent – being a nurse and knowing how easily transmittable a virus can be – that China took such tough measures to protect its citizens but, living in the UK while Matthew, Chrissy and Ollie are in lockdown thousands of miles away, I had numerous worries about what could happen to them if they contracted the virus.

“You think ‘I may not see them again if the worst happens.’

“Matthew is a qualified microbiologist, so he understands the importance of isolation and preventing the spread of diseases. Having the reassurance that he knew what to do gave me some comfort.”

Hilary and Matthew talk most days through FaceTime and now that the shoe is on the other foot – with China largely recovering from its Covid-19 crisis, while the UK is in full lockdown as a result of the pandemic – it is Matthew who is worrying about his loved ones back home in Scotland.

Glasgow Times:

He has lived in China for six years and teaches science at Dulwich International High School but, after the outbreak spread across Wuhan, he had to spend several weeks confined to his home.

With the tight lockdown there now lifted, life is starting to get back to some sort of normality.

Matthew, 36, told the Barrhead News: “When it first started, Chrissy and I were in Nanjing [capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province] and, at the time, it seemed quite serious, as Wuhan had been locked down and there were videos and pictures circulating online of people panic-buying throughout China.

“In Nanjing, there wasn’t any of that – the only issue was buying masks.

“We did a bit of bulk shopping and we stayed in the family home in the countryside for a week before travelling back to our home in Suzhou. It was strongly suggested to stay indoors and limit movement outside.

“The government were very clear that you could only go out if it was absolutely necessary. All shops except those selling the necessities were closed.

“I had a mixture of emotions. There was the standard British attitude of ‘why do we need to do this, it only effects the elderly, it won’t affect me’ but at the same time I felt secure knowing there were procedures in place and the Chinese Government had a good handle on sorting this out.

“I think the 2003 outbreak of Sars [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] in China made the government a bit more wary of how this would progress.”

Matthew explained how, once people in China had completed their period of isolation, they were given a ‘green card’ that granted them access to the outside world again.

“Isolation has now ceased, in a way,” he said. “People who have completed it and have a green QR code [a type of barcode] as proof of completion can go out and resume normal life.

Glasgow Times:

“However, some shops are still only allowing delivery or, if you want to sit in, it is one per table and a certain distance per table.

“Isolation, for us as a family, has had its problems. As a teacher, I am teaching my classes online and it really isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It has taken me eight to 10 hours to write one lesson per day to a good standard, though we are aiming to be back at school for the second week in April – but nothing is definite.

“We were going to come home in July to visit the family and celebrate one of my best friends’ 40th birthday but, due to the outbreak in the UK and the new restrictions China have on flights and movement of ex-pats, I don’t see myself leaving the country in the near future.

“I completely understand what’s happening and I don’t consider it to be wrong. It is the right thing to do to have all these restrictions.”

As someone who has been through a three-month isolation, Matthew is urging people in East Renfrewshire to heed the social distancing rules enforced by the UK Government.

He said: “There is no reason why people shouldn’t wear masks. These are designed to stop you spreading the disease. They can protect other people from you if you have it.

“Also wear eye protection, as it seems to be able to enter through the eyes, and designate your indoor and outdoor clothing and keep them separate.

“Importantly, when you get home, wash your hands and wash your face.

“Just keep yourself and your family members safe. No-one is invincible and to say it’s just the flu and it only affects the elderly is short-sighted and wrong.”


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