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'We're starting to see gaps appearing on the shelves'

Listowel man Greg McDonough under lockdown in Anhu as viral death toll rises


Listowel man Greg McDonough

Listowel man Greg McDonough

Greg's wife Wangxuan and son Joseph

Greg's wife Wangxuan and son Joseph

The deserted streets of Anhu

The deserted streets of Anhu


Listowel man Greg McDonough

Listowel man Greg McDonough, wife Wangxuan and their little lad Joseph (2) continue adjusting to life under lockdown in the province next the epicentre of the coronavirus.

As the death toll rose further this week the Chinese authority enforced even greater restrictions on movement - leading to eerie scenes of deserted plazas and empty roads.

"Looking out the window here you'd ordinarily see hundreds of people moving everywhere. There isn't a sinner out now," Listowel native Greg McDonough told The Kerryman on Monday.

He was speaking from a village in the hinterland of the city in which he and wife Wangxuan work in university. That city, Hefei, is in Anhu province, adjacent the Wuhan epicentre of the coronavirus emergency. 

They are holed up in the village with Wangxuan's parents for the foreseeable future.

"We're lucky in that we are in a new apartment complex that is about 90 per cent empty. Wangxuan's parents moved in just at Christmas, but only one person per household was allowed to leave for provisions only once a day between 8am and 6pm," Greg said.

Since speaking to The Kerryman the restrictions were tightened to just one excursion every two days. Greg said there is no sense of panic at present among the population.

"People are quite calm and if you do see someone common sense prevails and people keep a safe distance from one another.

"What I am getting worried about is the gaps that are appearing on the supermarket shelves. We're just starting to see stores running out of items. It's ok for now as there are still plenty of staples available, and they are getting re-supplied but I would worry about it if this emergency goes on for much longer."

He's not overly fearful of contracting the novel coronavirus, with the majority of cases still next door in Hubei province.

"95 per cent of everything is in Hubei, with 95 per cent of those cases in Wuhan still. For every 100 cases globally 95 are in China and 95 of those are in Wuhan," Greg said.

"Deaths from the virus are overwhelmingly among elderly people with pre-existing conditions. For everyone else it doesn't seem to be that serious an illness. It has a death rate of about one in 50," Greg explained.

Neighbourhoods are also locked down.

"You can't get into other neighbourhoods. It would be like if you took Cahirdown, Greenville and then Clieveragh in Listowel and said to the people there 'you're from this area, you're from this area and you're from this area and that's where you stay."

Out and about in the open zones, it's just a question of taking the right precautions and hoping for the best. He has confidence in the State's response to the outbreak and said China was lucky in so far as it emerged during Spring Fest.

"Spring Fest is like Christmas on speed! Everyone is off for a week at least so the authorities were simply able to extend that for two weeks now until February 10 in the hope they will have a handle on the coronovirus by then.

"We were also fortunate, myself and herself, in working in university as we are not due back anyway until February 23. We get two months holiday. I work for Lancaster University in the UK here teaching English for Academic Purposes."

Greg was to have returned to Kerry just last week. Unlike other Westerners airlifted home Greg is staying with his family. 

"I was due to fly home on Thursday but when I saw this was going to go on and on I cancelled my ticket. My fear was that while I might have been able to get home, I might not have been able to get back into China to my family. I'm going to stay put.

"I was talking to an Irish lad who got out on a British plane, but other countries are only taking their own citizens home and my wife is not an Irish citizen. "

It's all about family for Greg and Wangxuan now as they spend the days trapped inside their apartment and trying to keep little Joseph - or Wangxing Bo in his native tongue - occupied.

"It's lucky the apartment complex is so empty as we can get out and about inside the complex with him, just to expend his energies.

"The rest of the day we spend binge-watching TV, sleeping, eating, showering and generally passing the time. It feels like the TV show Big Brother. Not the one hour highlight programme but the 24-hour live feed!"

Greg anticipates lockdown lasting until March now by which time it is hoped the State and the WHO will have a handle on the illness. There are positive signs meanwhile, with China reporting a sharp rise in recoveries from the illness as of Tuesday.