Staying Put in China

A staff member disinfects a residential area in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, Feb. 2, 2020. Various measures have been taken for epidemic prevention efforts across China. (Xinhua/Liu Chan)

Every Chinese New Year is different. This year there’s an outbreak of a novel coronavirus, so instead of traveling to see friends or to visit America, I stayed at home and didn’t go out much. It would be tedious to describe my daily routine during the holiday, if it can be called that: sleep late, stay up late, decide to make irregular eating habits a practice of “intermittent fasting” to lose weight. I’ve been catching up on reading, watching online videos. Normally I might try to go see a temple fair or light off fireworks somewhere, but this year I was staying inside.

In order to control the novel coronavirus, people rarely go out. I saw an amusing video on WeChat in which a mother and her son played rock-paper-scissors, and the loser had to let his or her face be smashed in a powdery dough on the table between them. (The son lost.) Some Chinese joked that the most popular tourist route during this year’s Spring Festival is bedroom-living room-kitchen-toilet. Some even have counted all the floor tiles in their houses. Staying at home is boring, so we find ways to amuse ourselves.

While some foreigners are in a hurry to leave China to avoid catching the virus, I am going to stay put. As of this writing, the official holiday has not yet ended but we will soon have to adjust to a “new normal” with epidemic control measures in place. Some worry that what is taking place in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, may become reality for other cities. For expatriates who have small children, are old, are students, or were only planning a short visit, it makes sense to leave. China has faced this sort of epidemic before with the SARS outbreak of 2003, and even then, the real “emergency” status was lifted within three to six months of its discovery because infected vectors were tracked and the situation was stabilized.

I’m going to stay put in China because I’ve looked at the facts. The novel coronavirus doesn’t have the same mortality rate as something like Ebola. This virus pretty much gives a very bad case of pneumonia, which, because it is viral and cannot be treated with antibiotics, probably can be gotten over in a few weeks. Some special care may be needed to moderate symptoms, but a period of three to six weeks is normal for people dealing with viral pneumonia. Not even all the infected get actual pneumonia. After SARS, swine flu, and other such diseases in the past, there were lots of fever detectors in airports and extra forms to fill out, but the world eventually pulled through. There is no sugarcoating it: this virus is bad, but it’s on a level with other crises that have emerged. China and the world know what to do, and they’re doing it. For this crisis, I stay put.

The author is a magazine editor from the United States now working in Beijing.

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