‘Do you want me to scan your temperature?’ asks the receptionist, brandishing an infrared thermometer. Arriving at my hotel in Shanghai, I have a hacking, chesty cough. I picked the wrong week to contract this year’s bout of normal, perfectly healthy winter flu. In China, there is now only one illness.
Like Christmas in the West, the Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year) is always the time when big cities shut down. But thanks to the coronavirus, China has entered a period of quarantine. Early in January, there was still a large crowd of skaters on Houhai Lake in Beijing, revelling in the fun of the frozen landscape. But things have moved very fast. Concert halls, museums and cinemas have shut down. This week when I visited one of Beijing’s larger cinemas, which takes up an entire floor of one of the city’s monolithic shopping malls, the lift doors opened to an eerie darkness and silence.