Staying indoors both a sacrifice and a reward

Ni Tao
Most residents of Shanghai have been housebound since the start of Spring Festival. Life indoors may be tedious, but it's also an opportunity for bonding and dutiful contribution.
Ni Tao

Over the past couple of days, I have barely ventured outdoors except on occasions like disposing of household trash.

Like most Shanghai residents who heed government warnings against mass gatherings and unnecessary outdoor activities amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, I strictly confined myself and my family at home during the Lunar New Year holiday.

Today I made a list of the things I did outdoors during this period. They were so few that I can count them with one hand.

I ordered takeaway twice; I hung wet laundry to dry on the terrace; and I went to a smart delivery locker to collect a few parcels, which mostly contained surgical masks and hand sanitizers purchased online.

This kind of routine has become familiar to many local residents. Other than going out to get daily necessities, most people have considerably reduced their contact with others. Acutely conscious of how the virus can spread among people, residents need little encouragement in keeping their distance from each other.

In a picture that went viral online, a group of Shanghai residents were seen standing at least 5 meters apart as they queued for mask ration coupons. This image invited some joking comparison with the way people queue up in some Nordic countries.

But apart from checking their phones for updates on the coronavirus outbreak, many have been finding ways to while away the hours of boredom-inducing comfort of home.

My way of coping has been watching movies about infectious diseases. The most notable titles included “Contagion” (2011), “The Flu” (2013) and my all-time favorite “Outbreak” (1995) starring Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo.

In “Outbreak,” over 2,000 residents of a cozy and close-knit California town are plunged into fear and paranoia due to a plague spread by a monkey smuggled from Africa.

Some scenes depicted in the film, such as the lockdown of the town, are being played out in reality in Wuhan, epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. As the city and central China’s Hubei Province report new cases of infections and deaths every day, we are deeply saddened by how vulnerable mankind is to the mysteriously destructive power of nature at its worst.

We cannot afford to be too economical with our contributions to the frontline medical professionals who risk their lives to save the sick and dying. Likewise, in Shanghai, we owe a big thanks to the tens of thousands of doctors, grassroots officials, community volunteers and social workers who pull out all the stops to nip possible hazards in the bud.

Ordinary residents are also doing their part to help those at the forefront of containing the pandemic. There are tales of individuals who volunteered to work at factories for more than 10 hours a day to produce face masks.

Overseas and ethnic Chinese also pitched in, figuring out ways to send medical supplies or donations to trusted organizations. These stories are touching and boost our confidence that we as a nation will vanquish the virus.

Residents living in de facto self-isolation at their homes also have a role to play, by dutifully complying with government orders to cancel non-essential outdoor activities and avoid complicating the fight against the virus.

This fight cannot be won only by doctors, soldiers or government officials. For those who have the good fortune of being insulated from the full force of the virus, staying at home is our best duty to our country, cities, families and fellow citizens.

On second thought, it’s also time to think of how to make the best of a bad situation.

As a father of two sons, one aged 4 and the other a little over 9 months, I have been pondering that lately. Attending to them has consumed most of my time and energy.

This isn't easy. I countered my elder son's multiple protests at keeping him indoors by entertaining and even “bribing” him with chocolate waffles, comic strips, board games and many hours of “Paw Patrol” and “The Octonauts.”

Keeping a noisy 4-year-old sufficiently engaged so that he doesn’t throw a tantrum is a tough job. But this experience has turned out to have its rewards.

For example, I taught him to play Scrabble and draughts. The progress he made on simple addition of numbers smaller than 10, through rolling dice while playing Snakes and Ladders, really blew my mind.

I felt the time was well spent, as this sort of compensated for my unfulfilled parenting duty during my absence from home.

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