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Dealing with friends overseas who raise concerns about my safety

Updated: 2020-02-20 07:10:00

( China Daily )

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Any conversation or discussion these days centers around the novel coronavirus pneumonia, now dubbed COVID-19, whose epicenter was in Wuhan, Hubei province.

Take, for instance, a discussion among colleagues on a WeChat group. One of them posted details about an app for ordering food and essential items. With fewer restaurants staying open, and having been instructed to stay indoors and avoid using public transportation in view of the prevailing situation, it was the apt suggestion under the circumstances.

The post was about ele.me, an online ordering platform, from where one could source food. Sherpa's, a well-known food delivery service, has temporarily suspended its services in Beijing over virus fears.

Others chipped in with the names of two more food delivery services: Meituan and JSS.

Well, at least I know I won't starve even if I don't cook.

These are testing times, and this is the time when one needs the support of family and friends. For most of the expatriates, it comes in the form of phone calls from their near and dear ones.

I've been deluged with calls in the last two weeks, with most of them beginning with "how are you?""how is the situation?" and ending with "what do you plan to do?"

Reports about the mounting toll, rising number of cases, and growing rumors were only fueling their concerns.

Most of them had the same advice to offer: "just quit and come back" or "come back".

One of the callers is a childhood friend from India and a schoolmate, who is now based in the United States. But for a couple of email exchanges, we hadn't spoken even once in the last four years. None of us ever complained about it to each other.

In the last two weeks, he has already called me six times, enquiring about my well-being and the situation across China, especially in Beijing, after the outbreak. He said he would call me again after a few days. I have no doubt he will.

"Pack your bags and leave." That was his first reaction on his first call.

I could understand his concerns. I had to make him understand that in the current situation, it was far safer to stay within the four walls of the apartment than travel thousands of kilometers by air.

The risk of the spread of infection, I told him, was much higher in closed spaces, like those in an airplane.

He didn't seem convinced. I had to explain to him that all measures had been taken to ensure our safety, including provision of masks, spraying of disinfectants in common areas at the apartment and the workplace, besides regular advisories on precautionary measures that needed to be taken.

He still had some doubts.

"What about those returning from holiday?" he asked, referring to those coming back after the Spring Festival holiday. "They won't be allowed to return to work immediately, and they'll be quarantined for two weeks," I said.

Anyone entering the apartment or workplace will have their temperature checked, I added.

Seemingly convinced, he began: "Well, I know you are safe as of now, but keep a Plan B ready."

He also said he won't again ask me to go back home, but he will call me again.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

The current situation has also seen me playing adviser to friends from India who were planning a visit to China, with one of them having already booked his flight ticket.

His itinerary included visits to six Chinese cities, all business-related. My advice to him: Cancel the ticket and stay safe.

He heeded my advice, with a big "thank you" message a few days later.

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