March 2, 2020 / 5:02 AM / a month ago

Families across China work, play under one roof as coronavirus keeps households under quarantine

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Millions of families in China effectively-quarantined in their own homes due to coronavirus are struggling to keep themselves safe, still earn a living and entertain their children as schools remain shut for at least the next few weeks.

Some have not been out of their homes for weeks, others have only felt the sun on brief excursions to the roof of their apartment building, and the weekly grocery shopping is now an online affair.

Zhang Xingmei lives with her husband, 10-year-old son and mother in a flat in China’s commercial hub of Shanghai. They haven’t left their apartment since late January.

Her biggest worry after so long indoors is how to keep her son fit. “He’s a little chubby and doesn’t like to exercise,” she said.

Her best solution, if it is not raining, is to go up to the roof and exercise with a jump rope and breathe some fresh air - all while donning a face mask, of course.

While the coronavirus outbreak remains most severe in Hubei province, where it originated, cities and towns across China have imposed a state of semi-quarantine for all residents.

Schools have remained in session via online classes, and much of China’s white-collar sector has instructed employees to work remotely. Yet many small businesses are closed, and factories operate at partial capacity.

Xiong Yu and Yao Qianming work from their home in Shanghai alongside their two children, who remain in the house taking school lessons online.

Yao does most of the parenting, as the owner of two coffee shops said his business has shrunk 90% due to the virus, leaving him with more free time to look after the children.

Xiong said that occasionally, when the kids are too loud and she can’t focus on her online meetings, she’ll give them a cartoon to watch. “It keeps them quiet for a bit,” Xiong says. “By the time I’m done, it’s usually over.”

Stella Zhang, the mother in another family, says except for short trips outside wearing masks, she and her kids have not left the house in three weeks.

With no relatives in the house, Zhang and her husband take turns looking after their five-year-old-daughter while the other works from home.

The Cai family is more flexible - grandma and grandpa help take care of two children, aged five and nine-years-old.

While they’re seldom bored at home, they long for the simple pleasures only available once life returns to normal - business trips, dinners at restaurants, friendships at school.

The family purchases groceries using e-commerce apps, while grandma Cai says she still makes trips to the market - careful to be quick and not spend too much time inside the store.

“I wish I could go to the market to buy things, without having to be anxious,” said the elder grandma Cai.

Reporting by Aly Song in Shanghai; writing by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Michael Perry

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