Indoor fishing and chanting battles: how China's quarantined millions are keeping busy

Michael Standaert in Sichuan
Photograph: Héctor Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

Whether locked down in quarantined cities in the outbreak zone of Hubei or isolating themselves at home across the country to lessen the chance of coronavirus infection, Chinese people have been coming up with creative ways to keep boredom at bay.

The nation’s social media sites are abuzz with innovative ways to keep spirits up, from impromptu lion dances – using plastic stools for the head and blankets for the costume – to chanting battles between high-rise residential blocks, indoor quoits and fishing in fishtanks.

On Monday night, the sound of voices rung out across the city at the epicentre of the outbreak of coronavirus. The word “Jiāyóu” echoed between Wuhan’s high-rise apartment blocks, as people took to their balconies to shout “keep going” to their neighbours.

There has also been speculation that November could see a spike in births.

For many of the millions stuck at home, a big issue is simply how to keep warm. Very few homes in Hubei – or in southern China – have central heating.

So, families huddle around gas and electric heaters, often placed below a table with a blanket draped over, to warm their hands and feet while eating, chatting or playing cards on top, or escape to beds piled in covers or with an electric blanket. Daytime highs around reach 10C and temperatures dip below zero at night.

Related: What is the coronavirus and how worried should we be about it?

Wang Jianping, 42, who was spending the new year holiday in a Hubei village just a kilometre from the border with the Hunan province city of Yueyang, told the Guardian that he and his family were sleeping and staying in bed most of the time. Wang said the border has been blocked and cars and motorcycles can’t get through so there’s not very far they can go.

“If we go out at all we mainly chat with close neighbours and remember funny times from our childhood days,” he said. “Before it got serious many people were sitting together playing mahjong but now nobody wants to do it.”

One issue that has popped up for many parents with children is how to effectively explain why they need to stay inside, wear masks, and wash hands so frequently. Where there is a need and a gap, creative measures often arise to fill them.

One writer has already whipped up a children’s book called “Why can’t I go out?”.

The story, which advises how to explain to children the need to stay inside and the risks of the virus without scaring them, has been viewed 870,000 times since 26 January when it was released on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo.