On most mornings, these days, when entrepreneur Suresh Varma wakes up at his house in Beijing and checks his phone, he is sure to spot three messages.
One is from the Indian Embassy, the other from the local municipality and two mobile service providers -- China Mobile and China Unicom.
They all have one plea: The need to take precautions ever since the fatal Coronavirus started spreading in Wuhan on December 31, which is 1,150 kms away from Beijing.
So, Suresh is told, like lakhs of Beijing residents, he too should wear facemasks if he planned to go out, especially in crowded places and that he must drink water all the time.
"The virus thrives if the throat is dry,” says Suresh, by phone from Beijing.
“There is a need to keep the throat hydrated all the time. So, we are told to carry water bottles all the time.”
There are about 40 Malayali families in Beijing, of a total of 120 people.
They are mostly working in multinational firms, banks, newspapers, schools as well as embassy staffers.
At Wuhan University, there are a few Malayali students.
“But till now, it looks like not a single Malayali has been infected,” says Suresh, who is the president of the Beijing Malayalis Association.
“As you know, Wuhan (population: 1.1 crores) and another town Huanggang (population: 70 lakh) have been locked down. No one can go in and no one can come out. The railways and the airports are closed. The government is on a war footing.”
But the odds are stacked against them. One major reason is the timing of the outbreak. On January 25th is the Chinese New Year, a week prior to which all offices had closed.
Schools were shut two weeks earlier. “What is going on in China is a mass internal migration,” says Danny Geevarghese, a Beijing-based freelance writer.
“Millions of people are travelling back to their hometowns.”
So, it is no surprise that cases have been reported in 27 provinces.
And numerous people have already travelled abroad for vacations. So nobody knows who has taken the virus outside.
Cases have already been reported in Taiwan, USA, South Korea, Thailand and Japan.
To prevent further outbreaks, at Beijing airport, authorities have put up large temperature-scanners.
“You just walk past the scanners,” says Suresh. “If you have a slight temperature, they will take you aside and check you.”
As to whether there are fears in China of this becoming a national as well as a global epidemic, Suresh says, “They are hoping it is not. Scientists worldwide are working very hard to discover a vaccine. Let’s hope they make a breakthrough quickly.”