On the eve of Chinese New Year, I set off from Beijing for my grandparents’ home in northern China. It is the day after the city of Wuhan has in effect been placed under quarantine. I am headed about 600km from Wuhan, but this New Year holiday is very different: almost everyone on the train from Beijing is wearing a face mask. I take mine off when I arrive at my grandparents’ crowded flat, where they, with a total of seven aunts, uncles and cousins, are already folding dumplings for the pot.

They are chatting about the virus outbreak, but the mood is still calm: everyone is dealing with a more immediate concern: making dinner for a large family. So far, only Wuhan has taken citywide preventive measures, but we are now discussing our own. To some relief, my grandparents announce they are cancelling our usual visits to relatives...

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