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How to survive the shutdown

Mar 30, 2020 • 16m 45s

As more of Australia goes into coronavirus isolation, advice is being offered on how to manage mental health during a viral pandemic that forces us to separate. We speak to a Melbourne family who have been in isolation for almost 80 days.

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How to survive the shutdown

192 • Mar 30, 2020

How to survive the shutdown

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

As more Australians face isolation because of the coronavirus outbreak, we look at how to manage our mental health during a viral pandemic that forces us to separate.

Today, we hear from a Melbourne family who have been in isolation for almost 80 days.

Archival tape -- Shoko:

Hi, my name is Shoko I’m Isaac's mom. Yeah…

RUBY:

Elle, you've been following one family's experience throughout this pandemic. Can you tell me a little bit about them?

ELLE:

Yes. So I've been talking to the Li family about what they've been going through over the last couple of months. The family is spread across two continents and their story is pretty extraordinary.

RUBY:

Elle Marsh is a field producer at 7am.

ELLE:

I spoke with Shocko Li and her 14 year old son, Isaac.

Archival tape -- Isaac:

My name is Isaac. I was born in Hong Kong. And I’m 14 turning 15.

ELLE:

And Shoko’s niece Cat, she helped translate.

Archival tape -- Elle:

Can you hear us okay, Cat?
Yeah I can now…
Hi Cat...

ELLE:

They told me that last summer they booked a trip during the school holidays to China. The plan was for them to visit their grandparents and spend Chinese New Year in the city where the whole family is from, which is Wuhan.

RUBY:

And so what happened after they arrived in Wuhan?

ELLE:

Initially, not much. They were staying with their family, catching up. But not long after they arrived, Shocko started getting messages from her sister..

Archival tape -- Shocko:

...It was my sister, actually, who was telling me that the virus was pretty serious, but we all played it down and said it probably wasn’t a big deal.

ELLE:

And Shocko’s sister said that she was reading stuff saying that the virus was a lot more serious than a lot of people thought. And she was encouraging her sister to wear a mask and for Isaac and Shoko to book a flight back earlier.

Archival tape -- Shocko:

We were on the streets and we didn't see anyone wearing masks so we thought, how could it really be that bad of a virus?

ELLE:

But it was hard to reconcile what her sister back in Melbourne was saying with the reality of what she was seeing in Wuhan. There wasn't even that much about the outbreak in the local news. So it was life as normal until everything changed on January 23rd.

RUBY:

So what happened on that day?

ELLE:

At 6 a.m., Shocko was woken up to a phone call from her sister in Melbourne saying Wuhan was going into lockdown because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Archival tape -- Shocko:

So yeah, so then I immediately went and got my mother. And, you know, she's 76, but she's never gone through anything like this before either. And I told her that the lockdown was going to start in three hours. And we were both like what does this lockdown mean?

ELLE:

Overnight without warning. The Chinese government quarantined the 11 million people living in Wuhan.

Archival tape -- Shocko:

My aunt still thought it was still a dream when it was happening when my mum called her...

ELLE:

By 10am, all public transport, including buses, railways, flights and ferry services were shut down. Police shut down highways and residents were ordered to stay indoors.

RUBY:

So what did Shoko and Isaac, this mother and son from Melbourne, who found themselves in lockdown in Wuhan - what did they tell you about what their life was like?

ELLE:

Yeah, they said it was... it was really spooky. The whole city was completely dead.

Archival tape -- Shocko:

The lights would turn off after a certain time. There were no cars on the street. It’s like you could hear a needle drop. You were only allowed to leave the house if you had a license or a little slip. So it just really meant that the whole city shut down....

ELLE:

For Isaac, he wasn't allowed to leave the house at all. And for him during the lockdown, the most challenging part was just staying occupied, trying to keep the boredom at bay.

Archival tape -- Shocko:

Like a normal day, but you don’t go out or do anything. It's just very repetitive. I did about the same thing for about a month.

EVE:

So to pass the time they found some ping pong paddles. They would play ping pong over the dining table or play cards with his grandparents. Isaac started a new hobby of making music on his computer.

Stuck in the apartment, Shocko said that she fought the urge to leave the house on a daily basis. She found that that was a huge struggle. You know, she just wanted to get fresh air and be outdoors. But the government said that that wasn't safe.

Archival tape -- Shocko:

And so at that time, those days were the ones when I wanted to leave the most. You know, we calling up lots of people to see if you get drivers to take you out of the city, then it started to dawn on us that we really had no way to leave…

RUBY:

So Elle, how long were they locked down for and when did they get out?

ELLE:

So a week and a half after the city went into lockdown, the Australian government announced that hundreds of Australian citizens and permanent residents stuck in Wuhan would be evacuated. But Shocko and Isaac aren't permanent residents. So they were left behind.

The two of them do have Hong Kong passports, so…. If they could get to Hong Kong before international borders closed, they could get back to Melbourne.

Archival tape -- Shocko:

It started… My mum would make phone calls every day to try to get government to get us back to Hong Kong…

EVE:

So about 45 days into lockdown at the apartment in Wuhan, Isaac and Shocko finally were granted passage to Hong Kong. They spent the following days in Hong Kong in this tiny, bare concrete space.

On their 13th day of quarantine, they found out Australia was closing its borders. So on their last day of quarantine, they managed to get a car straight to the airport, boarding one of the last flights out of Hong Kong to Melbourne at midnight.

But now they face quarantine and possibly months of self isolation in Australia, which is a situation so many other Australians are either facing or are about to face.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Elle, we're talking about one family's experience of isolation and quarantine in Wuhan, Hong Kong and now Australia. Their experience is pretty extraordinary - but many Australians will also go into isolation or lockdown in the coming weeks. What is that going to look like?

EVE:

I think it's important to make a distinction between quarantine and self isolation. People who have arrived from overseas or are crossing certain state lines are required to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

However, most of Australia's population are also now adhering to isolation measures to curb the spread of the virus. Vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with health issues have been self isolating for some time now.

So whichever way you look at it, there are unprecedented amounts of people in Australia in isolation without much contact with friends and family.

RUBY:

What do we know about the sort of impact that that will have on people's health?

EVE:

People are feeling anxious about their future and what's going to happen in the coming weeks and months.

Archival tape -- David Forbes:

David speaking…

Archival tape -- Elle:

Hi this is Elle...

ELLE:

I spoke with Professor David Forbes. He is the director of the Centre for Post-Traumatic Mental Health at the University of Melbourne. He says that these necessary restrictions will have short and potentially long term mental health impacts.

Archival tape -- David Forbes:

So in circumstances of infection, what we're experiencing at the moment where we're required to enter into it a quarantine or self-isolation or just bunkering down at home, you know, the risk of this is that it's directly removing one of the most important scaffolds and supports we actually have in maintaining mental health and wellbeing....

ELLE:

He said that the best way to deal with trauma and crisis is through community support and social connectedness. But the nature of the Coronavirus outbreak and the need to self isolate means that just as people need social support more than ever. It's a time where they are unable to receive it. So it's kind of a vicious cycle.

RUBY:

Mm and so are there strategies that he told you about to help people cope during isolation?

ELLE:

Yeah. So Professor Forbes said that those in isolation could try to reframe the situation and and try and see it as an opportunity to use the time effectively in another way.

Archival tape -- David Forbes:

Trying to set up a daily routine, as simple as that might be, just to give yourself some structure and to feel like you're reestablishing control in terms of your immediate environment.

ELLE:

He also said that if you know people who are self isolating and in quarantine, try and help them remain connected by calling them, messaging them, using video chat, those sorts of things.

Archival tape -- David Forbes:

Despite the isolation rules, find ways to keep connected, whether it's a telephone, whether it's social media, whether it's any other forms that might work for use, staying connected with people and not just en masse but in personalised lives, which is making sure you connect with people in ways that are meaningful for you.

ELLE:

So kind of what he's saying is that this virus might actually make us realise that we do need to work together as a society and that our fates are all linked.

Archival tape -- David Forbes:

If we can handle these things right and really reposition ourselves in how we engage with others, how we view each other, have we support each other. There's a potential I'm hopeful that we might come out of this a more cohesive society than we entered into it.

RUBY:

So Elle, where are Shocko and Isaac now? And how are they feeling about what's happened to them over the past few weeks and months and their future?

ELLE:

So Shocko and Isaac are now in their last leg of quarantine back home in Ashwood, Melbourne. But this time around, compared to Hong Kong, they have a bit more space now. They're able to spend time in the garden, but all up from Wuhan to Hong Kong to Melbourne all up. They will have been in isolation for over 80 days.

They are probably up there in terms of the people who have been in lockdown for the longest. But in spite of all this, their spirits are still pretty high.

RUBY:

How have they managed to do that? How have they managed to stay calm and okay during all of this?

ELLE:

Yeah, it's pretty interesting that, you know what Shocko and Isaac were saying about how they coped in isolation, there are a lot of parallels with what Professor Forbes was saying.

They tried to keep a routine and they really tried to reframe the situation.

Shocko said that, you know, there's not many moments in life when you have the opportunity to slow down. And through the days of lockdown, she just kept telling herself to keep a calm heart...

Archival tape -- Shocko:

And looking at the fact that we were strong enough to get through this chapter in history and what a big thing it was...

ELLE:

She also says that the best thing to come out of this is that her relationship with her son Isaac is better than ever.

And Isaac agrees. He says he and his mom understand each other a lot more now. They really talk to each other in a way that they hadn't in the past.

When they had no space away from each other at all is, ironically, when Shocko says, she was able to learn to give her teen space and understand that he's growing up and becoming more independent.

Archival tape -- Isaac:

I think it definitely has brought us closer together.

ELLE:

And it's not just Isaac and his mom who are closer. It's the whole family on all different sides of the world. And their family thread on WeChat is busier than ever.

Archival tape -- [WeChat notification sound]

RUBY:

Elle, thanks so much for your reporting on this.

ELLE:

Thanks so much.

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RUBY:

And the latest in Australia’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak…

The Prime Minister has announced public gatherings will be limited to two people, as part of a raft of new social distancing measures.

The new rules exclude those living in a household together. So for example, if you live with three other people, all of you would be able to be outside together.

Playgrounds, gyms and skateparks will be closed.

People aged over 70, those with chronic illnesses aged over 60, and Indigenous people aged over 50 are being asked to stay home to "the maximum extent practical".

The PM also announced a moratorium on evictions, applying to both commercial and residential tenants.

The federal government has unveiled a $1 billion package to boost the healthcare system’s capacity to respond to COVID-19.

The money will be used to allow GPs and mental health professionals to provide their services over the phone or online. $74 million will be provided to boost mental health services and counselling services for people at risk of experiencing family violence will also receive a funding increase.

The government has also flagged an increase to income support, and suggested that it could adopt a wage subsidy similar to the model currently being rolled out in the UK and New Zealand.

As the death toll from the virus reached 16, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the rate of increase of confirmed cases had fallen 25 to 30 per cent a day, to 13 to 15 per cent a day.

This episode was reported by Elle Marsh, a field producer at 7am. Her position is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See ya tomorrow.

As more of Australia goes into coronavirus isolation, advice is being offered on how to manage mental health during a viral pandemic that forces us to separate. We speak to a Melbourne family who were holidaying in Wuhan during the first outbreak and have been in isolation for almost 80 days.

Guest: Features and field producer Elle Marsh.

Background reading:

The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning.

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192: How to survive the shutdown