March 19, 2020 / 5:59 PM / 12 days ago

From schools in Shanghai to picnics in Caracas: How coronavirus is moving global life online

(Reuters) - Millions of people worldwide are having to embrace life under lockdown - confined to their own four walls or neighbourhoods for weeks on end as countries battle to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Thomas Law Kwok Fai, a priest, conducts Mass streamed online for people to mark the second Sunday of Lent, after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong temporarily suspended public masses at churches, following the the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hong Kong, China, March 7, 2020. "It was a painful decision. However, it was a faithful decision as we believe in God. God has given us the power to make sacrifices that make it a loving decision," said Fai. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

This new way of living poses huge challenges. Teaching, working and socialising have moved online as never before. The lockdown has also prompted some people to reassess their lives and what is most important to them, bringing unexpected realizations and touching moments with their families.

Sha Jie, a 10-year-old primary school student, is continuing his schooling online. He sits at the kitchen table of the 70 square meter flat he shares with his parents and grandmother in Shanghai to follow a Chinese lesson on the television screen.

“I go out once a day at most, just hanging around our neighbourhood. My parents told me to wear masks if going outside and to wash hands carefully after coming back home.

“I study, draw, watch movies at home ... And I build models. I even made a programmable LEGO model car,” he said.

Asked what he would like to do most when life gets back to normal, he said: “hang out with my friends and play games at Toys ‘R’ Us.”

Thousands of miles away, in Milan, 14-year-old Italian Lavinia Tomassini is also trying to study at home.

“I get up much later and I go to bed later than usual. I focus less when I am home, I like to go to school and study there more. I focus more when I am at school as I have less distraction.

“I hope all this will come to an end ... I am really struggling to study from home as I have so many distractions here at home. And also I really want to be able to go out again without being worried about catching a disease.”

In the United States, as in other countries struck by the virus, Dr. William Jason Sulaka has learned how to conduct consultations online as he can no longer meet his patients face to face.

“I would rather see a patient in the office ... I prefer real visits to virtual visits,” he said.

But the 40-year-old, based in West Bloomfield, Michigan, has been staying at home with his wife and children as much as possible.

“I just miss the freedom of going out in general and not having to worry about the person next to me.”

Using online consultations, Dr Lisa Elconin, 57, also in West Bloomfield, Michigan, is getting 10 times more communications from patients.

The closure of workplaces has given people time with their families they never had before.

Dino Lin, a 40-year-old who works in an auto-part manufacturer, was lucky enough to move into a more spacious apartment in Shanghai just before the virus took hold, allowing his 5-year-old daughter Wowo Lin to have her own room.

“We have been staying at home mostly. We are not forced to do so but believe this is the best way to keep our family away from infection ... I occasionally go downstairs for daily supplies and food. My wife and daughter don’t get out of the front door at all.”

Lin was previously commuting weekly from Shanghai to the city in central China where he worked.

“Now I finally got a lot of time to spend with my daughter and wife. We help our daughter build her own daily plan, which includes English, maths study, cello practice, reading as well as her favourite, watching cartoons.

“After life returns to normal, I think the first thing for me is to have a big meal in a decent restaurant. My daughter’s wish is definitely to meet and play with her best friends right away.”

Musicians from the Beijing-based Chinese group ‘The 2econd’ could not meet for weeks, but have now been able to come together and livestream a performance for their fans.

“I never thought that I wouldn’t see my band mates in nearly two months. As members of the one-child generation, we don’t have siblings. We are best mates. We share everything in life, joys and sorrows. I am used to meeting them every weekend for a drink or for a chat. Something felt wrong when that suddenly had to stop,” said singer Zhang Cheng, 30.

“I see this period as a double-edged sword. Although some performance plans have been postponed, it gave us more time to cool down and reflect on our work and to make it more mature.”

Thomas Law Kwok Fai, a 70-year-old Catholic priest in Hong Kong, has also turned to livestreaming, after the diocese temporarily suspended public Masses at churches.

“It was a painful decision. However, it was a decision of faith as we believe in God. God has given us the power to make sacrifices that make it a loving decision.”

Rather than livestreaming, dance teacher Alessia Mauri, 34, who lives in Milan, is recording lessons her students can watch and follow at home.

“I thought it would be interesting to give them some specific dance lessons. Not like the ones I am seeing being livestreamed publicly on Instagram. I think it’s much more constructive for my girls to have a video of a teacher who gives them a dedicated lesson they can have at home and help them keep on training.”

In the Venezuelan capital Caracas, 51-year-old Ana Pereira lives alone with her dog and cat. She is sitting down in front of her computer to a virtual picnic with friends, as they can’t actually meet as they have done weekly since 2011.

Slideshow (10 Images)

It is a poor replacement.

“I need physical contact and I’m missing it a lot,” she said. Asked what is the first thing she wants when life get back to normal, she said, “a hug.”

For a photo essay see: reut.rs/3948g9R

Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Mike Collett-White

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