PHOTO: Shoppers in masks

Shoppers in Hong Kong wear masks to protect them from the deadly coronavirus. Some areas of China are under quarantine.

THE WECHAT VIDEO calls to China get harder and harder these days.

“Daddy, when are you coming home?” my children ask. I am in Manilla, Philippines, some 1,200 miles away, trying to reassure my family living in Shenyang, China, during this coronavirus epidemic.

My wife and two children are confined to quarters at this time.



Miles, my 5-year-old son, says some people ate bat soup, got sick, and now he can’t leave the house. He says bats are things you shouldn’t eat, and we joke that they must not even taste that good. We may be going bats, but bats are not to blame!

I play with my daughter through the video call, hiding from the camera and then springing my big eyeball onto the screen for her to see.

They haven’t left their grandparent’s apartment in China for days.

As my wife spins the Wechat video camera around the room, you see my aunt-in-law Nancy, and Mr. and Mrs. Wang, my parents-in-law. They are watching a classic Chinese TV show.

My son comments that this is old people TV, not what he wants to watch.

My wife and the entire room chuckle about his comments. Miles says it in English to me and then translates it to Chinese for the family there.

My mother-in-law speaks to me in Chinese through the video call: “Hui jia,” she says, meaning “come home.”

That is a tough sentence to hear.

Do I come home? The home she means is my mother-in-law’s home in the northeast of China, where my wife and two kids are visiting for the Chinese New Year, as well as to help her with her cancer treatments.

This has been how the daily Wechat video calls have been going.

I am not sure when I will be able to “hui jia.” Around the world, airline flights to and from China are being cut off. Even if I were able to go back to China from here in Manila, would I be able to enter the country? Would I then also be quarantined?

One must believe this will all blow over. I tell myself it’s just a longer Chinese New Year holiday. Isn’t that what Chinese New Year’s is? Just like any holiday in the world, you stay at home with your family. They are home. They’re not sick. I am the one alone—and worried.

Daily delivery of food to the apartment complex is still possible, but for how long? The malls are closed, adding to the uncertainty. And some neighbors have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The Chinese government has reacted swiftly to the crisis. They have done some amazing things, like constructing a brand new hospital in two weeks. But what government or agency can stop this vicious virus?

Now the coronavirus has been declared an international health danger by the World Health Organization and the United Nations. It is going around in Asia and soon the world. There is a case in the Philippines.

My wife comments to me on a call that China is now a virus country. She suggests that her friends and neighbors do online training. She shares images of Chinese starting to do online learning. My children have already started.

When will the kids be able to go to school? How long will this endure? When does Daddy come home?

Chinese New Year is always a special holiday to remember, but I hope this one ends soon.

Mike Michelini is an American expatriate who has been based in China for over 10 years. In January 2020, he took a business trip to Philippines, only to learn of the spread of coronavirus in China while he was away. His wife and two children are currently in a quarantined apartment complex in her hometown of Shenyang, and he only gets limited information via Wechat video calls on their status.

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