Coronavirus Wuhan diary: Living alone in a city gone quiet

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Illustration of a woman looking out of a window

Guo Jing lives in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the heart of the outbreak of a new virus which has got the world worried.

Wuhan has been under lockdown since 23 January, to try to contain the infection. Transport is shut down, most shops and businesses closed, and people are being advised to stay at home.

Jing is a 29-year-old social worker and rights activist who lives on her own. For the past week, she has kept a diary, which she shares here with the BBC.

Thursday 23 January - the day of the lockdown

I didn't know what to do when I woke up and learned about the lockdown. I don't know what it means, how long it will last and what kind of preparations I should make.

There are a lot of infuriating comments [on social media]: that many patients cannot be hospitalised after diagnosis [because of a lack of places], that patients with fever are not properly treated.

Many more people are wearing masks. Friends have told me to stock up on supplies. Rice and noodles have almost sold out.

Media caption,

Fears over coronavirus in China trigger face mask shortage

A man was buying lots of salt, and someone asked him why he was buying so much. He replied: "What if the lockdown lasted for a whole year?"

I went to a pharmacy and it was already limiting the number of shoppers. It had already sold out of masks and alcohol disinfectant.

After stocking up on food, I am still in shock. Cars and pedestrians are dwindling, and the city has come to a stop all out of a sudden.

When will the city live again?

Friday 24 January - a silent New Year's Eve

The world is quiet, and the silence is horrifying. I live alone, so I can only tell there are other human beings around from the occasional noises in the corridor.

I have a lot of time to think about how to survive. I don't have any resources or connections.

One of my goals is not to fall sick, so I have to make myself exercise. Food is crucial to survival too, so I have to know whether there is enough supply.

The government hasn't said how long the lockdown will last, nor how we can carry on functioning. People are saying it might last until May.

The pharmacy and the convenience store downstairs were closed today, but it was comforting to see that couriers are still out delivering food.

Noodles are all sold out in the supermarkets, but there is some rice. I also went to the market today. I bought celery, garlic shoots and eggs.

After going home, I washed all my clothes and took a shower. Personal hygiene is important - I think I am washing my hands 20 to 30 times a day.

Going out makes me feel that I am still connected to the world. It's very difficult to imagine how elderly citizens living alone and people with disabilities will get through this.

I didn't want to cook less than usual, because it was the last night of the year of the pig - it was supposed to be a meal of celebration.

Over dinner, I was on a video call with my friends. There was no escaping talk of the virus. Some people are in towns near Wuhan, some chose not to go home because of the disease, some still insist on gathering despite the outbreak.

A friend coughed during the call. Someone jokingly told her to hang up!

We chatted for three hours and I thought I could then fall asleep with happy thoughts. But when I closed my eyes, memories of the past few days came in flashbacks.

Tears fell. I felt helpless, angry and sad. I thought about death, too.

I don't have many regrets, because my job is meaningful. But I don't want my life to end.

Saturday 25 January - Chinese New Year alone

Today is Chinese New Year. I never have much interest in celebrating festivals, but now new year feels even more irrelevant.

In the morning, I saw some blood after I sneezed, and I was scared. My brain was filled with worries about sickness. I was wondering if I should go out or not. But I had no fever and a good appetite, so I went out.

I wore two masks even though people say it's pointless and unnecessary. I am worried about [poor quality] fakes, so a double mask makes me feel safer.

It was still very quiet.

A flower shop was open, and the owner had placed some chrysanthemums [often used as funeral flowers] at the door. But I didn't know if that meant anything.

In the supermarket, the vegetable shelves were empty and almost all dumplings and noodles were sold out. There were only a few people queuing.

I keep having this urge to buy lots during each visit to the shop. I bought another 2.5 kg of rice, even though I have 7kg of rice at home. I also couldn't help buying some sweet potatoes, dumplings, sausages, red beans, green beans, millet and salted eggs.

I don't even like salted eggs! I will give them to friends, after the lockdown is lifted.

I have enough food for a month, and this compulsive buying seems crazy. But under such circumstances, how could I blame myself?

I went for a walk by the river. Two snack shops were open and some people were out walking their dogs. I saw some others were taking a stroll as well - I guess they also didn't want to be trapped.

I'd never walked along that road before. It felt like my world had expanded just a little bit.

Sunday 26 January - making your voice heard

It not just the city that's trapped. It's also the voices of the people.

On the first day of the lockdown, I couldn't write [anything about it] on social media [because of censorship]. I couldn't even write on WeChat. Internet censorship has existed for a long time in China, but now it feels even more cruel.

When your life is turned upside down, it's a challenge to build up your daily life again. I keep exercising in the mornings, using an app, but I can't focus because my brain is occupied.

Media caption,

"Wuhan, add oil!": Watch residents shouting to boost morale in quarantined city

I left home again today and tried to count how many people I met - I met eight during my walk to a noodle shop some 500m away from my home.

I didn't want to go home. I wanted to explore more. It's only two months since I moved to Wuhan. I don't have many friends here, and I don't know the city very well.

I guess I saw about 100 people today. I have to keep making myself heard and break the shackles. I hope everyone stays hopeful. Friends, I hope that we will meet and talk in the future.

Around 8pm I heard the shouts of "Go, Wuhan!" from people's windows. The collective chanting is a form of self-empowerment.

Tuesday 28 January - finally sunlight

Panic has driven a wedge between people.

In many cities, people are required to wear a face mask in public. On the face of it, the measure is to control the pneumonia outbreak. But actually it could lead to abuse of power.

Some citizens without a mask have been thrown off public transport. We don't know why they didn't wear a mask. Perhaps they couldn't buy any, or they didn't know about the notice. No matter what, their rights to go out should not be taken away.

In some videos circulating online, some people had sealed up the doors of people who'd self-quarantined themselves. People from Hubei province [where Wuhan is] were driven out of their homes and had nowhere to go.

But at the same time, some people are offering accommodation to Hubei people.

There are a lot of ways the government could encourage people to stay home. It has to ensure that every citizen has enough face masks, or even give cash rewards to citizens who stay home.

Today, there's finally sunlight - just like my mood. I saw more people in my complex and there were a few community workers. They appeared to perform temperature checks on non-residents.

It is not easy to build trust and bonds under a lockdown. The city is worn down by heaviness.

In the midst of all this, I can't help but becoming more on-guard.

My anxiety about survival has been slowly dissipating. Walking further in the city will be meaningless if I don't make any connections with people here.

Social participation is an important need. Everyone has to find a role in society and makes one's life meaningful.

In this lonely city, I have to find my role.

Guo Jing also published parts of her diary on WeChat. She was talking to the BBC's Grace Tsoi.

Illustrations by Davies Surya.

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Image source, Getty