Manitoba teachers in China get temperature checks, tracking app amid coronavirus

Temperature checks, tracking apps and job delays are now part of daily life for two Manitoba teachers living and working in China, but they aren't in a rush to come home.

Both say they will stay in China unless coronavirus worsens in Shenzhen

Winnipegger Tommy Allen gets his temperature checked when he enters and leaves his apartment building in Shenzhen in southeastern China. The guard has his mask off because he was eating dinner. (Submitted by Tommy Allen)

Colby Charles scanned the streets of Shenzhen, China, his mask over his mouth, looking for an open shop where he could get his hair cut.

"I walked all around my neighbourhood. Couldn't find one salon open," the Manitoban said over Skype on Friday.

Manitoban Colby Charles wears a mask while in public in China to help stop the spread of coronavirus. (Submitted by Colby Charles)

Businesses are closed in coronavirus-hit China and the government has instituted temperature checks and use of an app that says who people are, where they've been and whether they're sick. 

"The government can kind of track where everybody is going and where they've been so that if there is another breakout, they know who has been around and who to quarantine," said Charles, who's from Manitoba's Oakbank-Dugald area. 

This is what life in China is like for Charles and Tommy Allen — two Manitobans who don't plan to leave the country as the government tries to slow the spread of the sometimes deadly coronavirus, which is centred about 1,000 kilometres north of Shenzhen in Wuhan, Hubei, China.

A trip to a government office to process the visa that allows him to live and work as an English teacher in China was the first time Charles had to check into a building by getting his app scanned.

The app tracks people's names, phone numbers, passport numbers, addresses and whether they've been sick, Charles said.

There's another app that Charles said he doesn't use, which can notify users if they have been near someone infected with the coronavirus.

"If I went to a supermarket, I signed [into the app] at a supermarket, and then the same time that I was at the supermarket there was a person there with the virus, they would maybe let me know, or they would quarantine anybody that was in the a supermarket at that time," Charles said. 

A tent is set up outside Manitoba-born Tommy Allen's friend's apartment in Shenzhen, China, where someone checks the temperature of people who go in and out of the building. (Tommy Allen)

In addition to the app, Charles has to have his temperature checked every time he enters and exits his apartment building.

"It kind of looks like a little handgun kind of thing and they just, it's like a laser, and they press a button and the laser sensor takes your temperature," Charles said.

Numbers rising 

The number of people diagnosed and dying from the disease, which is officially known as COVID-19, is climbing every day.

More than 73,000 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 32 Canadians aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship near Tokyo. More than 1,800 people have died from the disease, the World Health Organization said in a situation report Tuesday. 

The Canadian government advises people to avoid non-essential travel to China because "there is an extreme risk to your personal safety and security."

Canadians in China also are advised to consider leaving while it's safe to do so, and to avoid large crowds, avoid sick people, avoid contact with animals and to wash their hands and monitor their health.

Manitoba teachers will remain

This is the third year Charles has lived in China and he's not planning to leave unless the potentially deadly disease impacts Shenzhen more. 

So far there have been 1,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Guangdong, the province where Shenzhen is, and which has a population of more than 113 million people, the World Health Organization report said Tuesday.

"I feel like as long as you're staying on top of sanitation, wearing the mask, washing your hands, that sort of stuff, and avoiding public places, it shouldn't be an issue," Charles said.

WATCH | Colby Charles describes how the Chinese government tracks public health:

Winnipeg teacher explains how the Chinese government tracks coronavirus

2 years ago
Duration 0:36
Colby Charles says the government in China makes everyone wear a mask, get their temperature checked and, in some cases, sign into an app that tracks their location and health.

For now, some restaurants and businesses have closed and fewer people walk the streets.

Charles said he would be more concerned if his city was in lockdown or if he heard of more people in Shenzhen diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Until then, Charles plans to be in China for another couple of years to work and save money.

"I have some financial goals that I want to hit and being in China helps me realize those, so I feel like I can still do that at the moment, so I'm going to keep pushing towards that," said Charles, who blogs about his experiences living and working in China. 

"This is where I live. This is how I make a living at the moment, so I'm going to see it through," Charles said. "If it got to the next stage, then maybe I'd re-evaluate, but for now, it seems OK to be here."

School closures worry Winnipegger

Allen is considering leaving China, but not exactly out of fear of the coronavirus.

He left Winnipeg to teach in Shenzhen 1½ years ago.

He teaches art at a primary school but classes are delayed until at least the beginning of March, and he's wondering how much of a financial hit he'll take. 

"There's a big question in terms of whether the schools will be paying teachers for that delay or not, and whether they will be invited to do online teaching or not," Allen said.

Winnipegger Tommy Allen has been teaching in Shenzhen, China, for a year and a half, and might consider leaving if the start of the new semester continues to be delayed to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Tommy Allen/Skype)

He was supposed to return to work last Wednesday. 

"A lot of teachers are worried, including myself, worried about how it might affect our pay, especially if the government delays the in-person classes even past the beginning of March." 

If Allen's salary is affected, he will consider looking for work in a nearby country or even back in Canada, after he weighs the costs of all those options. 

Allen's friends and family back in Winnipeg have asked him to reconsider living in China.

"They mostly advise me to consider leaving, which I am considering, and I have considered, but I'm going to wait a bit longer," he said. 

"If things do get worse or if work gets further delayed … I would probably go back home and go from there."


Danelle Cloutier

Associate Producer/Technician

Danelle Cloutier is an associate producer and audio technician in current affairs at CBC Manitoba. She has a background in audio engineering and journalism.


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