Living with the coronavirus: an expat under self-quarantine tells all

Stressed and fearful that she's trapped in a Hong Kong under lockdown, Londoner Kirsty Crean, 27, describes how everything changed when the deadly virus crossed the border from mainland China

‘It was only when a thermometer was scanned against my forehead outside a restaurant that the coronavirus (recently named Covid-19) felt real to me. I was meeting my boyfriend for dinner on Valentine’s Day and every person was made to prove they didn’t have a fever before being allowed in.

Since the outbreak, temperature checking isn’t uncommon in Hong Kong, but I hadn’t experienced it before and it made me wonder if the fear it induces is worth it. People are scared, panicked. The streets are empty, with the 7.4 million citizens holed up in their tiny apartments.

The question on everyone’s lips is: how long is this going to last for? All schools and universities are shut, and entire families are sitting in their homes going mad. The parents are working from home and their children are doing online learning.

I’m still going in to work – I’m an associate at a headhunting firm and my boss gave me the option to work from my apartment, but I’d rather keep to my routine as much as possible. The space I share with my boyfriend is so small and his work hasn’t given him the option to commute in. He said working from home seemed like the dream at the time, but now he’s bored and frustrated with the city being on lockdown.

My boss told me that if I show any symptoms of illness (from a cough to shortness of breath) I must go home straightaway. I haven’t felt ill, but I was slightly hungover one day and tempted to use it as an excuse to go home. I didn’t, obviously! On a serious note, my friends have been nervous. One has had heart surgery and lung problems in the past, so she asked her HR if she could work from the London office and it was allowed. My company gave me a mask to wear when outside, but I don’t choose to wear one because I don’t feel it’s necessary. I appreciate that it’s a mass flu, but it’s also flu.

That said, I’ve been getting taxis rather than public transport, because you come into contact with less people in a day than the MTR (Mass Transit Railway). The roads are really clear because no one is outside, so I get to work really fast – although I did recently get told off by a taxi driver for not wearing a mask, and I’m subjected to annoyed looks from locals for not wearing one, too.

Those who do go outside are completely emptying the supermarkets of food. Fortunately, locals don’t shop in good old M&S, so my meals – and costs – have stayed the same. However, loo roll is a different story. People have been panic buying it and now all the shops are waiting on deliveries. We’re down to our last two, so I’m hoping a delivery comes soon – else kitchen roll it is.

Fears over the coronavirus have prompted shortages of everyday goods (Getty Images)

I feel sorry for Hong Kong. It could really do with a break and the severe lack of tourists is noticeable. The city wanted to close the borders to China to protect against coronavirus far sooner. And now the virus has halted everything – including the protests, because people are fearful of getting the virus and don’t want to be outside in large groups. It remains to be seen whether the anti-China sentiment will resurface when the city gets up and running again.

There are moments when I’ve felt really stressed and fearful, less about becoming sick, more about being trapped in Asia. Even if I tried to come back to the UK, it’s likely I would be made to go into quarantine for two weeks. It’s one thing being self-quarantined in the comfort of your own home, it’s another using up my annual leave to sit by myself near an airport back home but I understand why these safety checks have to be followed.

My parents were due to visit in March and now they’re not, which did upset me. Also my boyfriend and I want to visit Bali this April but we’re not sure it will be possible now. We can still book flights, but we may be rejected on arrivals as we’re coming from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is enforcing a mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from mainland China (Getty Images)

Expats are still going out on the weekends but it’s notably quieter. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen to the city over the next few months. It sounds selfish but it is slightly ruining my time here because life is becoming so limited. The virus has so far claimed over 2,000 lives worldwide and the number of people currently infected in Hong Kong is 62. But I do think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I personally don’t know anyone who has it – yet – and I hope it stays that way.’

Kirsty has lived in Hong Kong with her boyfriend Ed for 18 months

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