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The Impact of Social Distancing as a Response to COVID-19 among Foreign Students in Wuhan, China

Human Development

The measures to contain the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic presented a myriad of challenges worldwide. The control measures included lockdown, social distancing and quarantine of infected people, among others. The aim of this study was to assess the impact of social distancing on international students at Central China Normal University (CCNU) in Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 first emerged in December 2019. The research design was exploratory, using a semi-structured interview guide to gather data from a sample of 20 international students at CCNU. Furthermore, secondary sources were used to validate the data. Data were analyzed using thematic content analysis. The findings showed some impacts related to social distancing: psychological distress, mental problems, relationship breakdown, fear, health problems, poor diet, and boredom. However, some students cited that social distancing enabled them to save money, focus on their lives, and improve their grades. Many informants revealed that they were willing to return to their countries as soon as the situation normalized.

COVID-19 has been a large-scale public health issue not only in China, but also in the rest of the world. The pandemic presented psychological challenges in addition to the risk of potentially fatal infection. In Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, it posed an extreme challenge to residents, including those of foreign origin. Against this backdrop, the study aimed at assessing the impact of social distancing on international students at Central China Normal University (CCNU). At the time, Galea, Merchant and Lurie (2020) had argued that COVID-19 offered an opportunity for researchers to study behavioral responses of international students to the imposed restrictions on movement and social interaction. Social distancing refers to decreasing close contact between individuals, usually in response to the rapid spread of an infectious disease. It includes closing buildings, canceling events, travel bans, and restrictions on gatherings to prevent disease transmission (Brooks et al., 2020).

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