If you’re planning to teach English in China, chances are you’re worried about coronavirus. With the virus now also spreading to neighbouring TEFL destinations, such as Thailand, Vietnam and South Korea, we’ve gathered together the latest information to help you understand how it might affect your TEFL plans*.
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses that range from the common cold right through to the far more serious SARs. The coronavirus that’s currently making headlines is a new strain, called Covid-19 that was first identified in Wuhun City, China. The main symptoms of Covid-19 are a cough, high temperature and shortness of breath, much like flu symptoms.
How worried should I be about coronavirus?
The daily news reports of people infected and dying from coronavirus in China are hugely panic inducing. But, while Covid-19 can cause severe symptoms (particularly in older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions) the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that most people who catch the current coronavirus are likely to have only have a mild form of the illness, similar to a bad cold or the flu and should make a full recovery.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that, although the virus has spread super-fast within Wuhun, there’s been no major outbreak outside of China so far. For TEFL teachers in most parts of the world, the main impact at present is following precautionary measures, such as regular handwashing with soap.
What’s happening in China?
With tens of thousands of people in China already infected by coronavirus, the mind-blowing noise and energy that TEFL in China usually offers has been temporarily silenced.
Both Wahun and Hubei Province have effectively shut down in an attempt to stop the virus spreading further. Although you might find an occasional open shop or restaurant, the streets are deserted. Anyone who does venture out into the ghost-towns wears a mask at all times and is likely to be stopped, questioned and have their temperature taken at one of the numerous checkpoints.
Life outside of Hubei is a bit more normal but far, far quieter than usual. Although some shops, markets and restaurants are open, many display a ‘No mask, no entry’ sign and the streets are spookily quiet. Travel around China has been massively restricted, with checkpoints at city and province borders across the country.
Can I still TEFL in China?
In theory, it’s definitely still possible to TEFL in China – and we’re aware of teacher who’ve chosen to stay in China as well as others who’ve decided to leave. Although many school buildings are closed, teachers are being provided with masks and food, and a number of TEFL teachers are delivering their lessons online and giving feedback to their students via video links. Most schools are honouring their contracts and TEFL teachers are still being paid.
However, the UK government has advised all British nationals to leave China if possible and is withdrawing all but the most essential embassy support. The Chinese health system is already struggling to cope with the outbreak and commercial airlines are stopping or reducing flights into and out of the country.
Even if you’re well away from the coronavirus epicentre, the restrictions in place will make this a vastly different TEFL experience from the one you’d planned. Bars and restaurants are largely closed, travel plans have to be put on hold and teaching is often being conducted via video links. Putting aside the worries about getting ill, one of the key challenges that TEFL teachers who’ve remained in China are facing right now is boredom!
I was planning to TEFL in China – what should I do?
If you were planning to TEFL in China, we suggest you follow government advice and put your plans to travel to this amazing country on hold until the virus is under control.
Above anything else, you may struggle to physically get to your new job as transport is currently very limited and you’re unlikely to get insurance cover if you’re travelling against government advice. Even if you do make it into China, the TEFL role that you signed up for may well not exist right now, as many schools are closed or delivering lessons wholly online. On top of the practical concerns, the significant restrictions on daily living mean that you’re unlikely to be able to experience all of the sheer amazingness that TEFL in China normally offers.
If you’ve got any flexibility in your timings, contact your school or employer and ask if you can defer your TEFL start date until the situation improves. We’ve had multiple reports of TEFL programmes being suspended for a couple of months and employers will be extremely keen to rebuild their TEFL staff once life starts to return to normal. While this ‘wait and see’ approach may seem hugely frustrating right now, you definitely don’t want to miss out on the full-blown uniqueness of China’s ancient history tangling with its super-speed modernity. The delay will seem worth it once you finally get to TEFL in China and you’ll have way more job opportunities once the wait is over!
Can I TEFL in other parts of Asia?
According to current Foreign Office advice China is the
only country that you should actively avoid travelling to right now as a direct result of coronavirus. Although there have been a number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in other Asian TEFL hotspots, including Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea and Hong Kong, you can still teach English in these countries at present – and they’re all amazing places to TEFL!
However, please do pay attention to any local regulations that are brought in to contain the virus, keep your eye on updates to travel advice and don’t be surprised if there are restrictions on public activities.
Are there any other TEFL opportunities?
A great alternative to teaching English abroad is to teach English online. The online TEFL industry is growing fast and is incredibly flexible and you can even teach English without leaving the comfort of your own home – winner!
Online TEFL could be the perfect way for you to build up your teaching experience until the epidemic is under control. You could even ask your original Chinese employer if you could teach their students online – a fantastic opportunity to build up your relationship with the school and then hit the ground running when you finally make it to China.
How can I stay safe from the coronavirus?
There’s no guaranteed way to avoid coronavirus. But there are steps that you can take to help, whether you’re in the UK or already teaching abroad. The World Health Organisation recommends that you:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze. Put used tissues in the bin straight away
- Wash your hands with soap and water often. Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- Cook any meat or eggs thoroughly
- If you think you may have the virus or if you’ve returned to the UK after teaching or travelling in China in the last 14 dates, regardless of whether you’ve got any symptoms, call NHS 111/NHS 24 and self-isolate (stay at home and try to avoid having any visitors – although it is okay for people to drop off food and medicine)
- Ignore the myths, such as using a UV lamp or spraying yourself with chlorine to avoid infection which the WHO says could actually cause you more harm than good.
How can I find out the latest information on coronavirus?
For the latest information about coronavirus, look at:
- World Health Organisation
- UK government advice for British nationals in China
- FCO advice on travel to other countries
- General advice on coronavirus
*All information correct as of 24/02/2020
Update 26/02/2020 – Following an outbreak of coronavirus in South Korea, the Foreign Office is now advising against all but essential travel to South Korea. A number of towns in northern Italy have also been isolated and further restrictions may be put in place there also. The situation can change rapidly. Check out the UK’s latest travel advice relating to coronavirus at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus.