JeNaii Jackson (left) and brother JeKaii are in China with their mother. DaVina Jackson said coming to China was a great experience for her family, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed all that. CONTRIBUTED: DAVINA JACKSON

Coronavirus stranding Georgia residents in ‘zombie-like’ China

Georgians stranded in China describe the scene as apocalyptic as a coronavirus outbreak sweeps through that country.

At the grocery story “there was nobody there. It gives you zombie-like vibes,” said DaVina Jackson. Elsewhere in her downtown Nanjing neighborhood the streets are empty.

“Nothing is open,” she said.

This poses a problem. The groceries are dwindling in the Jackson kitchen and DaVina is now too nervous to go outside. She and the children are mostly living off of a 50-pound bag of rice she bought earlier and local eggs.

The Fort Valley, Ga., native traveled to China last summer to teach English at a preschool. She brought along daughter JeNaii, 13, and son JeKaii, 9, happy to give them a chance to experience a new culture.

The adventure took a frightening turn in December with the emergence of the coronavirus. The epicenter of the outbreak is in Wuhan, about 336 miles from Nanjing, but the virus has spread through China into Europe and the Middle East. 

As of Wednesday, China reported 78,190 cases, including 2,718 deaths. Outside China, there were 2,790 cases in 37 countries, and 44 deaths, according to a World Health Organization official.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week that the coronavirus will probably continue to spread in the United States, where there are 14 confirmed cases.

While her school in China urged her to come back to work, Jackson was dubious.

“They want you to think everything is fine, the virus is gone, come back to work,” she said in a telephone call.

DaVina Jackson (center), with her daughter, JeNaii (left), and son, JeKaii, have been living in China since last summer, where DaVina began teaching English to pre-school children. Now they are struggling to get back home because of the coronoavirus scare. CONTRIBUTED: DAVINA JACKSON

But nothing is normal in Nanjing. During her last walk to the grocery store, she was stopped by a police officer and escorted to a red tent, where medical personnel measured her temperature. She tried ordering in food, but the delivery person refused, saying there were too many cases of the virus in her apartment building.

She has opted to stay at home, making videos for her students, home-schooling her children and trying to raise enough money to buy airline tickets back to the U.S., which have grown expensive.

Danielle Bailey, a 29-year-old teacher in Shanghai, is also planning her return home in Atlanta. Bailey moved to China about three years ago years ago and loved living there. Everything, she said – from traveling on public transportation to getting meals delivered — was easy and convenient. But it all changed with the coronavirus outbreak ripping through the country.

Danielle Bailey

In a series of texts via Facebook Messenger, she said, “the language barrier alone could cause a state of panic, especially during this time.”

She added that certain sacrifices and compromises go along with living China. “But an epidemic is not what I am willing to compromise on.”

She made one unsuccessful attempt to fly out.

Danielle Bailey decided to come back home after some very stressful days. 

The problem for Bailey and Jackson is that many airlines are cancelling flights to China, and the few available tickets are prohibitively expensive.

Jackson said they begin at $1,000 each and go as high as $5,000, and that she doesn’t have enough in savings to afford the price. She set up a GoFundMe account to raise money.

“If it keeps going up, I’ll be able to leave this week,” she said Monday.

She wrote on her GoFundMe account, “I have reached out to the American Embassy here in China, and they have informed me that they don’t have any assistance available and only did evacuations in Wuhan.”

Coming to China – without knowing one word of the local language – was not a bad idea, she said.

“The children can say we lived in a different country, learned a new language, ate different food,” she said. “I do not regret my decision at all. But I hate that it ended this way.”

Those returning to the U.S. from China are usually quarantined for two weeks. Jackson hopes to fly into Miami, where she will spend her quarantine time with her mother, before returning to Georgia, and Bailey expects to fly into Los Angeles and serve out her quarantine there.

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