Travel

Vacation in Okinawa: Hiding from the Coronavirus Panic

We planned our Chinese New Year break vacation to Okinawa way before we were aware of the whole coronavirus mess going on in Wuhan. We left Shanghai on January 18th and I think I may have had some vague awareness that there was some outbreak going on somewhere else in China. During our week-long stay in Okinawa, the news of the coronavirus became unavoidable. A few nights before we were due to fly back to Shanghai, I got a disturbing image from WeChat about the line 11 metro (the line we take to get from Shanghai to Kunshan where we live). The metro was apparently full of military guys clad in masks keeping the calm.

Not really sure what these guys would do in this situation, but here they are.

When I first saw this image, I thought there was no way this was taken in the Shanghai metro. This was probably a picture from Wuhan and internet fear mongers were just circulating it to drive internet traffic. But then, I zoomed in on the route map in the background and I recognize the split as the Huaqiao/North Jiading line 11 end. But, I still have to question when the photo was actually taken.

The news of the city-wide quarantine of Wuhan bothered me, but it wasn’t until I heard news of other cities being put on lockdown that I got nervous about going back to China. Then the night before we were supposed to return, some friends in Kunshan let us know the line 11 metro had halted service to Kunshan from Shanghai. These little tidbits of unofficial information coupled with vague news articles speculating about the outbreak leave you feeling like you really have no idea what to expect.

Then it came out that Shanghai Disney was closing. I really had no choice but to assume Shanghai was initiating lockdown procedures. I was scared of flying into Shanghai and not being able to leave the airport to get into Kunshan with our one year old daughter.

My parents offered to have us stay in Korea instead of returning to Shanghai, so I quickly booked some cheap one-way tickets to Seoul. We had another week of vacation before my husband was due to be back at work, so we decided to go to Korea to wait and see how things unfolded.

It wasn’t that I was convinced we were going to contract some deathly virus- I was concerned about the panic and getting quarantined. So, off to Korea we went!

Getting a baby to wear a mask was easier than I thought!

We decided to wear masks and consciously wash our hands at every opportunity. It seemed as though more people were wearing masks than usual, but there was no sense of panic in either Okinawa or Incheon airport in Seoul.

As this week has gone by, we’ve kept up with the news mostly to see when we need to get back for my husband’s job. An alert came through about Jiangsu province pushing back the date that the new year holiday ended. This was right after Shanghai announced that students would not be returning to school until mid-February. Finally, we got official confirmation that my husband would not be returning to work until February 17th. We’ve got another two and a half weeks to wait around in Korea and see what happens.

Meanwhile, some friends who were spending the holiday traveling around China had to keep moving their return date up because of looming travel restrictions within the country. They got kicked out of a hotel in Xi’an because it was closing due to the virus and had to change their train tickets yet again.

I’m glad my family and I aren’t trapped in China at the mercy of lockdowns. It’s been really tough to gauge what’s actually going on in China. The news has me thinking that the virus isn’t much different than the standard flu we see each year, but I’m also suspicious of the numbers being reported because the panic and response in China doesn’t seem to match the low numbers of infections and deaths.

Better to just hang back and let China sort this out. We couldn’t have had a more well-timed vacation to Okinawa! More on the details on that lovely island in another post soon!

This article nicely lays out a comparison of the Wuhan coronavirus with both SARS and the seasonal flu. I also really like the study results about the best place to sit on a plane.

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