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Dublin: 10 °C Monday 6 April, 2020

Opinion: We survived lockdown in China, you too can get through this Covid-19 crisis

Greg McDonough and his wife and son have been on lockdown near Wuhan for weeks.

Greg McDonough

HELLO AGAIN FROM a chirpier China, where things have levelled off considerably.

I have been asked to write this new piece for, but this time the focus is different, it’s about you, at home in Ireland. You won’t be reading my account from China and thinking it sounds like an alien situation.

This time around, you know what it’s like. Hopefully, though, I can share some tips here on how to get through a Covid-19 crisis, which sadly, desperately, Ireland is now in the midst of.

86289497_187264035961576_578878496768524288_n Greg, his wife and son have been living under lockdown for several weeks.

If you’ve been in this column before, you’ll have read how myself, my wife Wang Xuan, and our son Joseph were surviving the coronavirus lockdown in China. One minute, we were sunning it up on the tropical island of Sanya, off the south China coast, and in a heartbeat, everything changed.

We returned to our home in Hefei, a city in Anhui Province, near Wuhan, for a few days before heading to her parents’ home in a small town nearby for a break around the Spring Festival. We’ve been here ever since, around two months now.

To be clear, we’ve been on total lockdown. That means no unnecessary journeys, only vital trips to the shop, or a daily walk outside. I know you’re not there, yet, and at least you can get out and about, but maybe you can be helped by some suggestions from this side of the world.

Here’s your survival tool guide

The following is just an account of what we did to get through. I am no expert, just someone who has experienced this thing ahead of you. Here in China, there are 1.4 billion people who could give similar advice, but you’re all stuck with the ramblings of a now half-deranged son of the Kingdom.

I’ve had a few questions from my friends at home about things like going out. We did leave the apartment, once a day, for a family walk, but stayed within the housing compound. To stop any spread of infection, we had a set of porch clothes, shoes, coats and gloves, which would stay in the porch and would not be brought into the house. When we would come back home, we’d switch to the house clothes and give a quick wash to anything that may have come in contact with other garments. That’s just what we did. Even psychologically, it helped us to feel like we were in control of any spread.

If you buy something in a shop, be careful with cash. I hear many shops in Ireland are not accepting cash anymore, which is great. I haven’t used cash in seven weeks, we do everything by scanning Alipay or Wechat. Cards are better, but be wary of the keypad if putting in a PIN. I saw a guy on YouTube in the US spraying his notes with disinfectant, then microwaving them! A step too far, I think. Better off avoiding cash altogether.

86439231_589327168314788_2433622602711826432_n Streets have been deserted where Greg and family are staying in China.

Another tip is to check social media and find out where other people are going, then avoid it and instead go to the less populated areas. It seems as if this was an issue at home on Sunday for Mother’s Day, everyone going the same way. That’s a bad idea. We built the habit of going out after sunset, as our neighbours are early birds. That meant that when we did encounter others we just swerved away, as they did, too, with no offence taken.

For masks, and again this is anecdotal, I’m not a scientist, but the grapevine in China told us that the fabric ones were only slightly effective and then only for a short time. Some people wore them consistently, others not a all. N95 masks were seen to be best and were in short supply. After wearing one every day when out, I changed tack and never wore one until I was actually entering a place of business, usually the pharmacy or supermarket.

Best rule? Stay indoors

Staying indoors is the best thing you can do now for your family, your loved ones and the health of society. I’ve been outside this housing complex four times in 47 days, for a sum total of maybe three hours, each time for shopping, each time less than an hour.

Just about everyone I know in China has a similar tale to tell, and it worked. I’m not sure how well it will play out in the West, which has a different social structure. I’ve seen some horror shows in the US, in relation to gatherings, which from this vantage point is just terrifying. In my view, Cheltenham going ahead was a serious error of judgement, but now people are getting serious there, which is a relief.

84180475_1334884630053585_9114060837089181696_n Greg, in a deserted city.

If you make a 100% effort, over 50 days, it might work, and Covid-19 will pass. Anything half-hearted, and you may as well not bother. You will get used to it and it will pass, and there are positives, strangely. I feel healthier, lighter, and my liver is enjoying its first break for 35 years.

I’m lucky enough to still be getting paid for doing remote work, I should be 1,000km to the north teaching, but I’m here with my family. I don’t need to use China Eastern Airlines every week and we’re spending very little and getting some quality family time. There’s always a silver lining, just sometimes it’s more difficult to spot.

Random observations

There are other habits we formed based on what we were reading online at the time. We get a lot of deliveries here, and you probably will too in the coming weeks. We developed the habit of removing the outer packing and leaving it in the porch. It helped us feel we had a bit of distance between everyone in the home and any infection.

Get lots of exercise, even if it’s just walking around the back garden. It’s vital for your well-being. Sleep, and good solid sleep is a necessity. Nobody that I know of in China hoarded, and we were never short of supplies because people remained sensible. Think of it this way, if Jack buys all the hand gels, and no one else in town has a hand gel, then everyone Jack meets can infect Jack. Don’t be like Jack, Jack is an idiot. Some things will run short, like imports, but there will always be enough if you are considerate.

Use social media, but don’t overuse it. I have been involved in a group for my hometown in Kerry for a few days now and the community spirit is remarkable. They truly are amazing people in the Kingdom, the spirit and generosity is flowing, and it’s really heartening.

Humans just need a channel, and social media is it for now. Someone posted in the Kerry chat recently the information on where people can get free printouts needed for making claims, for example, a big help to the community.

Another lad made his adapted car available free of charge to those in wheelchairs. Everyone knows what is open and closed, people are buying shopping for elderly neighbours. Such groups are easy to set up and can do a power of good. Again, this is not science, this is just me. Maybe it’ll help you get through this, and I hope it does.

This week, our lockdown was lifted.

Respect it.

It works.

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Greg McDonough

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