Thank God it's Friday

18th April 2003 at 01:00
Monday. Living in Hong Kong right now feels like being an extra in a virus movie. People are wearing masks in the street and the news is dominated by severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) - Iraq merits only a mention on page six of the South China Morning Post. The Government closes all schools today, but teachers are expected to turn up, so my husband, Mike, and his colleagues put work on the internet for students to complete at home.

Tuesday. It's a typical Hong Kong spring morning: warm, grey and sticky. I lie in bed listening to the cricket-like birdsong, count my insect bites (49) and wait for my daughter, Amber-Rose, to wake up. Mike receives his first lot of emailed homework. The supermarket is packed and instead of the usual two customers at the till, there are nearer 60. I wait in the express queue for 40 minutes, looking at other people's baskets; 15kg of rice and two dozen toilet rolls seems to be the norm.

Wednesday. Our electricity goes off again. I ring the landlord, and someone arrives to check it almost immediately. The discussion, through a language-barrier and a mask, proves too great and the workman removes his mask. The incidence of Sars is nearing one in 10,000, with all the cases in clusters. Residents of a housing estate in Kowloon have been quarantined in a nearby holiday camp, while their building is investigated. Airlines are reducing their flight schedules and the Rolling Stones have cancelled their gig.

Thursday. We check our BBC email to find that the UK has advised against travel to Hong Kong, and that passengers flying in are being screened. We are due to fly to Cyprus next week for a family get-together; although we were reassured last week that flights via the Gulf would still operate, we now worry that we may not be allowed to leave. Amber-Rose utters her second discernible word. "Laa-Laa," she says, pointing at the Teletubbies. Her first word was in Cantonese, her second in Teletubby, so clearly I am not a central influence in her life.

Friday. Two of the isolation camps are up the road from us and a local Nimby is up in arms, claiming that our water supply will be contaminated and that "these people" should be housed on an uninhabited outlying island or in the former detention centre. Today we find out that schools will not re-open before Easter.

Carlene Alexander is currently taking a career break in Hong Kong, where her husband is teaching.

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