by Xinhua writer Yang Shilong
WASHINGTON, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Justin Scholar felt relieved when he was told his flight to Shanghai, China, was set to take off at 1:20 a.m. (GMT 0520) on Tuesday from New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
"I have been praying my flight tonight doesn't get canceled," Scholar, a New Jersey native, told Xinhua via messaging app WeChat as he arrived at the airport Monday evening.
"It is orderly for this flight. (I) noticed some drama at the other desks, just people trying to get home or flee home," said the 27-year-old, who has earned quite a name in China for his creative way of playing Chinese instruments such as the Guzheng, Bawu, and Hulusi.
Scholar had a reason to worry about his flight being canceled, as shutdowns for the containment of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread across the United States.
California officials recently announced a complete lockdown of the Bay Area, including San Francisco, that requires people to stay home except for essential needs, while the governor of Ohio halted the state's primary elections, originally scheduled for Tuesday.
New York, Los Angeles and the Washington state have all announced that public buildings will be closed temporarily, amid fears that the number of cases will continue to grow.
The lockdowns come as more than 4,600 people have tested positive for COVID-19 across the country, and at least 83 have died.
In an apparent urgent bid to stop the spread of the virus, President Donald Trump on Monday released new and tougher guidelines that call for people to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel, and avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants, and public food courts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier advised the public to cancel or postpone gatherings of 50 people or more across the nation for the next eight weeks.
"We have an invisible enemy," Trump said. "This is a bad one. This is a very bad one."
Trump said the country may be dealing with a number of restrictions through July or August as a result of the outbreak, while the economy may be heading into a recession.
SAFER IN CHINA
Scholar is not fleeing the U.S., but is heading to Shanghai as he has "some exciting work coming up."
"The coming months in Shanghai are some of the most important of my artistic life. I can't wait any longer," said Scholar, who has prepared to undergo a mandatory two-week quarantine there.
"I feel like I've gone through it twice now. The way Americans are responding now is reminiscent of what Chinese folk were feeling two months ago," Scholar said, who returned to the U.S. in late January.
"The tables really turned 180 degrees. People were desperate to get out (of China) two months ago. Now everyone wants back in," he said. "After testimonials from my girlfriend and business partner back in China, they're also convinced I'm better off in China."
Scholar said Americans "suddenly realized" that the Chinese government and society are "far more equipped to handle an epidemic than America is."
The pandemic is "already greatly impacting" Americans lives, observed Scholar.
"Panicked cries of unprotected workers and freelancers, lots of typically hushed criticism of their working contracts brought to light when the workers are unprotected in cases like this," he said.
"Many Americans are obviously not happy with the government and its lack of firm instruction or action," he said. "Fortunately, we are covered by health insurance but many, many are not, so there is very little action against possible cases."
"Folks are certainly surprised at how quickly it's been quelled in China, South Korea, and other Southeastern Asian countries," he added.
"People trust authority over there," said Scholar, "We don't."