It should have been a time for “Lele” and her family to have fun, and relax in each other’s company.
But this year, for the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday in China, the 23-year-old, who didn’t want to use her real name, didn’t even want to leave her house.
She was scared of catching the virus that’s already killed 17 people in her home city of Wuhan, where she’s recently returned after studying in the UK.
But she gave in to her parents.
“I couldn’t disobey them, so we visited my grandparents’ place for dinner – which is very scary. I put my face mask on as soon as I got outside, and I tried to finish the New Year’s meal as fast as I could.”
Frightened of contamination around the dinner table, she advised family members not to get too close to one another.
“I told them to put alcohol on their cell phones and to wash their hands before they went into the room.”
The day after, the 23-year-old’s uncle said he had a high temperature. “Apart from that he doesn’t have any other symptoms, and I think his family wouldn’t want to risk taking him to the hospital.”
The virus is now spreading at an “alarming” rate. The hospitals have been flooded with thousands of patients who are waiting hours for medical attention.
“Doctors and nurses don’t even have enough supplies. I’m so scared, everyone is panicking. All the grocery stores are suffering from a major shortage of face masks,” says Lele.
A public transport lockdown came into force at 10:00am local time (02:00am GMT) on Thursday, leaving normally busy train stations and airports empty. Wuhan residents have been told not to leave the city.
But Lele believes the government should have acted faster: “I really don’t think there has been enough information at all – advice should have come through quicker.”
The recent graduate says she’s got friends who have been scanned and diagnosed with positive symptoms.
“But the hospital sent them home, because there’s not enough room.”
Lele says she’s also worried that older people don’t have access to vital information about the virus.
“Before today middle-aged and elderly people weren’t aware of how serious this thing is.” She believes that’s because it’s mostly young people sharing information via the internet.
To keep herself safe, Lele isn’t going to work: “My mum and I are just staying at home because we live near to a hospital.”
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She’s now worried for friends living in other provinces and is advising others to protect themselves.
“I would say buy as many face masks as you can – and don’t hang out with large groups.”
An emergency committee for the World Health Organization (WHO) delayed a decision on declaring a “global emergency” over the new virus, but is meeting again on Thursday.