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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 17 February, 2020
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Opinion: One minute it's a family holiday, the next we're housebound in China - one Irishman's coronavirus story

Greg McDonough is an Irishman living in China. He’s currently stuck in a town with his wife and child.

Greg McDonough

HELLO FROM THE Twilight Zone.

I am an Irishman stuck in China at the moment and was asked to write this piece, and, sure, it’s not like I have much else on. 

Two weeks ago myself, my wife Wang Xuan and our son Joseph were sunning it up on the tropical island of Sanya, off the south China coast.

We returned to our home in Hefei, a city in Anhui Province for a few days before heading to her parents’ home in a small town nearby for ‘a few days’ for the annual Spring Festival.

Anhui Province is just over four hours away from Wuhan province, where the coronavirus first broke out in December.

It’s now two weeks since we arrived at my in-laws’ home and we’re still here. What we’re trying to wrap our heads around is that it seems we’re likely to be here for several weeks to come, if not months. 

As I look out my window, the streets of the town are deserted: not a person in sight and no vehicles on the roads.

84546349_166066434688587_8048280645505384448_n McDonough and family are stuck in a small town in Anhui Province, for the foreseeable. Public transport has ceased.

The state we’re in

Basically, the virus showed up here and now we’re stuck. It’s not dramatic or exciting here during this time – it’s just boring. 

The town feels deserted. Maybe 10 days ago the inkling began that this thing was going to get very serious.

Shortly after, I was pretty sure that my flight to Ireland on 6 February was in doubt.

Three days later, the traffic restrictions were imposed for leaving town, which started to make things seem a little more real.

We watch the news and social media for updates, and it changes by the day.

So I decided around four days ago to cancel my flight to Ireland, for fear I might not be able to get back into China – but sure it didn’t matter because Lufthansa cancelled it anyway the next day. So that was the end of that.

83609521_1543465932480227_861668167263453184_n McDonough and family had just finished a holiday off the coast of China.

Chronic boredom

The idea of being stuck effectively indoors for the next few weeks is tough enough, but when the local shops ran out of masks and alcohol a couple of days ago, it felt like a real indicator of what we’re facing.

Yesterday I ran out of coffee and so went to the supermarket and bought all the spuds I could manage – we are well stocked on other foods, as is almost every Chinese household at festival time.

It was yesterday too when the advice came from authorities to stay out of the local shops and supermarkets as much as possible, though shops do remain open.

But things have slowed down considerably today on the streets as the local buses and taxis stopped running, hence the deserted streets.

The above sounds like a rapid succession, and in a way it is, but the living reality is just ferocious boredom, which leaves the door open to a kind of shocking tedium.

As I sat with my wife over coffee this morning we discussed our plans:

“I might shower later”, says I.

“Did yesterday,” says she.

“Maybe I will today too”, says she.

“Something to look forward to, I suppose”, says I.

The taking or not of a shower is a daily highlight. It’s like living in the Big Brother house.

Food is not an issue so far as deliveries are still getting through, and Chinese households are generally well-stocked anyway. But we are assuming that selections will become more limited as time passes.

Having said that, going out shopping is to be avoided as much as possible. There are even some restaurants still open and offering deliveries, but there are few takers for that service, I would imagine – people are wary of things beyond their control.

Impact on family

We try to get Jojo, our son, out for a little run around once a day. There is not a lot of competition for outdoor spaces in places that would normally be bustling with life.

My wife and I are both university lecturers so we have no need to go back to work until the end of February under normal circumstances, but both employers have already been notified of unspecified delays.

Through the grapevine, we’re hearing that mid-March might be a fair guesstimate of return time.

I’m glad I’m not in any business that relies on foot traffic like hotels, bars, restaurants or taxis. They are all suffering financially.

83363414_2615885288645788_646914588373155840_n Their son Joseph, 'Jojo' gets out for some fresh air every day.

When we were in Sanya for the sunshine I supposed there were 100,000 tourists kicking around (it’s like China’s Hawaii). Today, I’m hearing that number would be close to zero -it is effectively closed down, as is Macau, the gambling Mecca to rival Vegas.

These shutdowns are a good thing in my opinion. While the spread of this coronavirus is serious it is nowhere near exponential and I think the early action will lead to a much quicker resolution with countless lives saved.

We have no bother staying inside for a few weeks. Although – maybe ask if I still feel that way next month! If it works out that isolation now speeds up the process of battling this virus, I’m all for that.

It’s good to read about the global scientific community coming together and sharing information, and I think it’s just a matter of time before they beat it. 

I have lived here for 14 years and can testify that the Chinese are very resilient. I believe that they, with help from the international community, will win this battle.

Greg McDonough is an Irishman living in China with his wife and son. He’s a lecturer for Lancaster University.

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