Life under lockdown

A personal account of living in quarantine in Hubei


Hubei: in mass quarantine

A week ago the New York Times calculated that roughly 150 million Chinese had been confined to their homes to help contain the coronavirus outbreak.

A further 600 million were subject to lesser restrictions on movement. In total, more than half of the mainland’s population is under some form of lockdown.

It was a move that top figures in the World Health Organisation (WHO) praised, saying the extreme measures had essentially “bought the world time”.

But other experts have labelled the month-long lockdown of Hubei province as “cruel” and warned against other countries trying to emulate it.

“The ongoing threat to physical and mental health in Hubei is unconscionable – people are trapped together and fearful. Moreover, once quarantine ends, people in Hubei will flee,” Lawrence Gostin, professor of Medicine at Georgetown University told The Guardian.

So what is it like for people living under the strictest form of lockdown in Hubei? WiC reached out to a friend, a young woman who returned to the province for Chinese New Year and who now cannot leave her apartment. Here is what she says:

How long have you been confined to your apartment?

About one month. When I returned to my home town (near the border with Sichuan) on January 18 there were rumours of the virus but we didn’t pay much attention. Then people started cancelling plans and wearing masks outside. On January 23, New Year’s Eve, the local government said we had to stay indoors.

What was New Year’s Eve like?

It was the most boring and cheerless one I have ever had. Normally we have a big family gathering. This year is was just me and my parents. We sent New Year’s greetings to friends and relatives over WeChat but we added the line “wish you immunity from the virus”.

Have your feelings towards the lockdown changed over time?

Yes, at first we didn’t mind too much. It was hard but we thought it was the right thing to do. Now, I just feel desperate. And even though infection rates are going down the authorities have tightened restrictions. Previously, one family member could leave our compound every three days to buy food. Then, they changed it to once every five days, and now no one can leave our compound – they deliver food to the gate, which we can buy.

How do you spend your time?

I am lucky in that I can fill some of my days with my translation and research work.

For my friends who cannot work it is worse: every day is the same, they get up, eat three meals, spend time online and go to bed. Initially we all used to spend a lot of time chatting and reading about the virus.

But that was too depressing – the sacrifice of the frontline medical staff and the poor handling of the crisis by the government made us feel helpless. The only virus news we want to hear now is that it is over. Now I make sure I do yoga every day to stay healthy and my friends and I discuss what we will do when we can go outside again: the places we will go, the food we will eat.

What is the hardest thing?

Battling my feelings of anger and frustration. I know there are other people who have it so much worse. None of my friends or family have fallen sick. I haven’t been hungry. I have been able to work a bit. I feel guilty because there are thousands of people who are sick or who are exhausting themselves in the fight against this illness. We also don’t know when it will end. No one has told us when we will be allowed to leave our apartments.

What will you do when it is over?

I will appreciate ordinary life more. Grace comes from ordinary things. Having a world we can touch and people we can see face-to-face.

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