The first thing that a Chinese teacher did when she arrived to take over a new role in Malta was to go into voluntary quarantine.

It was an unusual way to start her role but it was necessary, Xiao Xiao Chai, who is from Xi’an city in China, told Times of Malta.

“The University of Malta staff and the head of the University’s Confucius Institute asked me to go into voluntary quarantine for two weeks before I started my job. I don’t have the coronavirus, but I took it as my responsibility to protect others around me,” she said.

More than 2,600 people have died in China after contracting the new coronavirus COVID-19, which has now spread to around 29 countries across the world. Three people who were aboard a cruise ship with a known virus case have been put into obligatory quarantine by health authorities.

27-year-old Ms Chai's quarantine, on the other hand, was self-imposed. She arrived in Malta on January 30 and said she was very happy and relieved to open the main door of her apartment block and walk outside when the head of the department gave her the all-clear on February 13.

What was it like to be cooped up in her flat for two weeks?

She said she tried to stay productive, whether it was reading, cooking, watching films or doing Chinese handcrafts, her hobby.

“The worst part is not being able to go shopping or to order food.”

Ms Chai said her new colleagues would bring her bread, eggs, vegetables, water and yoghurt to keep her going but it was difficult not to be able to select her own food.

I don’t have the coronavirus, but I took it as my responsibility to protect others around me

Being under quarantine was not new to her though. She had spent the week before she left for Malta unable to leave her family’s apartment after 22 confirmed cases of the virus in her city, prompting the authorities to limit people’s movement.

“The government had already been telling people to stay inside. Families must get clearance to go out and do their shopping. My cousin has to stay at home and work from her laptop,” she said.

Ms Chai has now also completed the first week of her two-year post teaching the Chinese language and culture at the Confucius Institute.

She is one of two Chinese nationals who were asked to go into voluntary quarantine.

Wei Chen, an assistant lecturer in Oriental Studies, returned to Malta on February 7 after spending the previous week in Germany, also under quarantine. The 29-year-old had returned with her German husband after visiting her family in Inner Mongolia, for the Spring Festival.

She said she did not have symptoms of the virus but had accepted the University’s request to go into voluntary quarantine. She too is now relieved to be out of the apartment and back to work.

The University’s International Office said the voluntary quarantine procedures had been introduced in late January, focused on those returning to Malta from affected areas.  

They have contacted the over 30 Chinese students enrolled in courses at the university, informing them of the steps being taken to deal with the virus.

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