Chinese family in New York says time to go home, virus or not, Latest World News - The New Paper

Chinese family in New York says time to go home, virus or not

This article is more than 12 months old

NEW YORK: Mr Jonathan Niu got to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport five hours early on Friday, not least because he had a lot of luggage to check for his flight to his native China. He was hauling back boxes filled with hundreds of face masks.

His mother and father, both in their 70s, had come to visit him in New York about five months ago, their first trip there in 20 years.

Then the new coronavirus emerged in Wuhan and became a fast-spreading global health crisis, prompting governments to fly their citizens out of China.

Mr Niu was among those who were travelling against the tide along with his parents, who missed their home after months away.

"Now it's time to go back," said Mr Niu, 44, who moved to the US more than 20 years ago and lives in Manhattan, where he works in finance.

The family remembers past virus outbreaks, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and survived them, he said.

He thought the US State Department was wise to warn Americans against non-essential travel to China because of the epidemic, which has infected thousands of people. But he wanted to shepherd his parents home.

Delta Air Lines and American Airlines joined other airlines on Friday in suspending all remaining US-China flights.

Even so, Mr Niu's father seemed relaxed ahead of his flight on China Eastern Airlines. But his mother had been less sure. "She was so nervous, she couldn't get any sleep," Mr Niu said.

After arriving, Mr Niu said he planned to make sure his parents' home in Hefei, capital of the eastern province of Anhui, was well stocked with groceries and other supplies. He would then settle in and stay with them for a month or two in a sort of self-imposed quarantine before returning to New York.

"It's like a zombie movie," Mr Niu said, although he imagined he might venture outside to a nearby store if he really needed to. "I've downloaded a lot of movies on my iPad."

Mr Niu figured he would cheer up his parents' neighbours by sharing some of his supply of face masks and drop off some at a nearby hospital.

"Everybody's panicking there," he said. "People can't get the masks." The stash cost him about US$400 (S$546).

Almost everyone waiting in line to check in for flights to Shanghai and Beijing on Friday were Chinese citizens returning home after a US vacation or work trip.

Ms Linda Xu, 40, had visited New York with her young son and daughter and her husband, and was bracing to be mostly confined with them indoors in their home in Beijing.

"We need to stay home," she said, her voice muffled by a mask.

"No school," said Shawn Xu, her 11-year-old son, seeming pleased. - REUTERS