HONG KONG — Eunice Chan, a physician in Hong Kong, removes her face mask only to shower, eat and drink.
At dinner time, when her three daughters, ages 7, 9 and 12, gather around the dining table, she takes her meal in another room.
“There’s no more hugging, no more kissing,” she said. “This is especially difficult for my youngest daughter.”
Her self-imposed isolation is not unwarranted. In Hong Kong, there have been two deaths and 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. And the semiautonomous Chinese city shares a porous border with the mainland, where 104 people on average have died of the disease every day since Feb. 1.
The whole city is on edge. Medical experts have implored residents to wash their hands regularly and to wear surgical masks in public, resulting in a run on supplies and long lines outside pharmacies.
But the risks, and anxieties, in the Chan household are particularly high. Both Dr. Chan, 44, and her husband, Dr. Pierre Chan, 43, have taken extraordinary measures to treat their patients and protect their family.
The Coronavirus Outbreak
What do you need to know? Start here.
Updated Feb. 10, 2020
What is a Coronavirus?
It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
How contagious is the virus?
According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
Where has the virus spread?
The virus originated in Wuhan, China, and has sickened tens of thousands of people in China and at least two dozen other countries.
How worried should I be?
While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
Who is working to contain the virus?
World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
What if I’m traveling?
The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
How do I keep myself and others safe?
Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
- What is a Coronavirus?
Dr. Pierre Chan, a gastroenterologist at a public hospital and a member of Hong Kong’s legislature, this month examined five patients infected with the coronavirus.
Though he was wearing full protective gear and his hospital did not require him to go into quarantine, he slept on the floor of his office for 14 days to avoid the possibility of infecting his daughters and his in-laws.
“I don’t dare go home,” he said. “I don’t even dare to go into hotels. You never know: I could be asymptomatic. Maybe a tiny bit of the virus got onto my clothes.”
“You don’t want to affect your family under any circumstances,” he added.
Both were young physicians during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in the early 2000s. That crisis eventually sickened 386 medical workers in the city, killing four doctors, a nurse and three assistants.
But they said they worried more about the current outbreak than they did about SARS.
“Back then, there was no situation like this,” she said. “The government has created an air of mistrust.”
That mistrust has resulted in thousands of medical workers striking to pressure the government to close the border and prevent mainland Chinese from entering the city; protesters setting fire to designated coronavirus clinics and quarantine centers; and a shortage of toilet paper after a rumor spread through the city that supplies would be restricted.
SARS, they said, instilled in them an understanding of how easily epidemic infections can spread and how quickly life in the city can be upended by an outbreak. It also gave them an appreciation of how simple measures can be lifesaving.
“We witnessed the aftermath of SARS. We have seen people die,” Dr. Pierre Chan said. “Now, I know to be afraid.”
When he returned home on Sunday from his self-imposed quarantine, his daughters presented him with a drawing of him, bedecked with pink hearts and soccer balls.
“I was so happy to be back home,” he said.
But he kept his mask on, and he stopped himself from hugging them.