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How I Lived Through Coronavirus Lockdown in Shanghai

Living in home isolation wasn’t easy but ultimately resulted in the best rest I’ve ever had and some of my most creative thinking in years, says BoF member Cody Allen.
An empty street in Shanghai | Source: Getty Images
  • Cody Allen

SHANGHAI, China — Social distancing is the only strategy that, thus far, has proven to limit the spread of the deadly Coronavirus that is now gripping the world. I feel strongly that it is our duty to practice social distancing, not just to protect ourselves, but to protect the most vulnerable amongst us: the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and those with essential professions, who must continue going out into the world to work each day.

As an American living in Shanghai, I have seen firsthand how effective the policy of social distancing has been in containing the virus. While life is not yet normal here, the situation has improved drastically since the start of the outbreak. The city is slowly re-opening for business, and the days are getting warmer and sunnier. People are outside again trying to enjoy the first breaths of fresh air after nearly two months in isolation. I spent this past weekend reopening my restaurant for brunch and dinner. It was the first time I had seen groups of friends in nearly two months, and there was a cautious but joyous feeling among us.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, but living under isolation wasn’t simple. What seemed like an impossibility in late January became a firm daily reality, as businesses and schools across the city closed, and people hunkered down in their homes to try and stem the spread of the contagion.

This past week, as the virus exploded across Europe and the US, friends from abroad began reaching out with questions about living under lockdown, social distancing and what this would all mean for their daily lives and sanity. So, here are my humble thoughts, after over a month of home isolation in Shanghai.

First, there are a few practical things you need:

1. Food, Glorious Food

  • A good grocery delivery service is a life saver but going to get groceries can be a nice break in the day.
  • Grocery stores will restock every day or two, so there is no need to hoard, just get a reasonable quantity of the groceries and supplies that you need.
  • Use a fruit and vegetable wash to clean all fresh produce.

2. Essential Protection

  • Face masks. There wasn't a run on anything in Shanghai except face masks. If you can find masks from legal, regular sources (not price-hiked in dark corners of the web or diverted from medical workers) then you should get them. They are useful no matter what people say. They help keep your hands off your face.
  • Ethanol alcohol (70 percent+) to spray down items entering your home and clean your phone a few times a day.
  • Hand sanitiser and plenty of hand cream to keep your hands from drying out from the sanitiser.

3. Hygiene at Home

  • Create a quarantine room or area of your house for all external clothing. Shoes come off before you step inside your house and all outdoor clothing items — coats, jackets, shoes, etcetera — stay in that room or area unless they are going back outside with you or you are washing them.
  • Hats like beanies are useful, so your hair is protected.
  • Wash your hands twice when you come home; a shower is best.
  • Wear clothing that you can easily wash; your dry cleaners will probably close.

My early days of isolation were full of frantic communication with my team, suppliers, lawyers and landlords, as we worked to put our businesses into endurance mode, facing a total suspension of venue operations until further notice. Once stability measures were in place, I turned to helping my friends and industry peers — even direct competitors — by acting as a sounding board for decisions that none of us had ever had to consider before. There was unbelievable camaraderie and peer support throughout my industry.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, but living under isolation wasn't simple.

But over time, the phone began ringing less and less each day and I was enveloped by an eerie blanket of quiet. Faced with the prospect of weeks or months spent primarily at home, my anxiety levels ran high, as the speed of normal life collided with the surreal, suspended nature of life in isolation.

Initially, I lost my rhythm. But after making the mistake of starting The Irishman at 12:30am one Tuesday night and “jet lagging” myself for several days, I made the decision to reset, get on a better schedule, and try to live out the remainder of my time in isolation with some sense of purpose.

A few final pointers:

  • Don't binge Netflix. Watch quality movies: cinema classics, documentaries.
  • Read more, watch TV; favour books over articles.
  • It's hard to find so much uninterrupted time on a normal work schedule, so use it wisely.
  • Don't watch any TV news and limit your media intake to well-regarded sources.
  • Keep your home super clean and organised; this also helps you not go insane.
  • Don't get on a late schedule with work from home. It's easy to start going to bed at 3am.
  • Still go out for a run or bike every day; early mornings are best. Yoga and body work are also great.
  • If you have kids, drive them out of the city every 1-2 days and run them around at big open parks.
  • And if you can find a way to be of service to others — helping an elderly neighbour with their groceries, or taking care of a friend's pet if they've suddenly decided to leave town — you will be doing your part to help society and also providing yourself with further sense of purpose during your time of isolation.

In the end, the more than a month I was locked down and barely leaving the house was the best rest I’ve ever had and resulted in some of my most creative thinking in years. I used the time to reorganise my house, computers, catch up on admin, meditate a lot, read several books and watch great films. The hours I worked each day were intense, but less in quantity than what it normally takes to put out the daily fires of office life. My friends with children said these were truly cherished times with their family and they wouldn’t have traded them for anything. I feel energised now, and ready to reengage with the world. I hope that friends elsewhere now undertaking necessary isolation measures can ultimately find some joy and purpose in them, too.

Cody Allen is a restauranteur and night club owner living in Shanghai, China.

The views expressed in ‘From The Community’ notes are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion. Please always consult your local public health authorities to make decisions on how to survive a lockdown in your country.

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Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
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