Feature

In Wuhan, China, A Year On: Personal Account By A Fijian In Lockdown

‘At exactly 1000hrs, the buses stopped, the metros stopped, the railways heading out of Wuhan halted and all borders of Wuhan City was shut. Police checkpoints were erected in various designated places around the city’
27 Dec 2020 16:06
In Wuhan, China, A Year On: Personal Account By A Fijian In Lockdown

In my last article I had outlined the chronological order of how the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist Party dealt with the COVID-19. It was by 17 February 2020 that the City of Wuhan was wholly quarantined. It was around this time that the number of new cases began to decline.

In this article I would like to share a few personal encounters and stories of how we had survived the lockdown in Wuhan.

Pre-lockdown period

Every morning I would wake up, have breakfast with my wife and then I would head off to the university. This was our normal routine after we had come back from a short break in October 2019. Sometimes I would stop over at a coffee shop and with some café latte; I would catch up on my readings. It was during those moments in the coffee shop that I read in the news about a mysterious and deadly virus that was already in Wuhan.

Despite that, life had continued as normal. My daily trips to the university and coffee shops continued as normal.

We even had a 7s Touch Tournament known as Santa 7s. It was a Touch Tournament of a different kind.

Each team would dress up in various costumes. Some teams had the same outfit while others would choose particular superheroes and dress like them.

It was fun moments where you can see a referee show Superman, or Wonder Woman a yellow or red card, or stopping Flash in his tracks.

The idea behind the tournament is basically to have fun so with it being an annual event, expatriates look forward to it as an opportunity to advance their network, while students look forward to it as it would be an opportunity to have some free beers.

A few days before Christmas, we received a family from Fiji who was visiting one of their family members who was also studying in Wuhan.

Joseva Racaca who was doing his Masters in GIS at China University of Geoscience was delighted to have his family over for the festive season.

On Christmas Eve we hosted some of the Pacific students to lunch and on Christmas day we hosted most of the Fijians in Wuhan.

It was a very memorable Christmas for most of us because we were able to taste some Fijian delicacies brought in by the visiting Fijian family. With all the fun and merry making, little did we realize that a mysterious and deadly virus was looming on the horizon.

The visiting Fijian family headed back to Fiji a few days after New Year.

When COVID-19 started to spread in Wuhan, Mr Racaca was so happy that his family were able to make it back to Fiji.

At this stage there were a lot of rumours going viral on social media and all about some phenomenal virus that was puzzling the medical profession.

But many, both locals and foreigners had thought that it was just rumours. I for one must admit that I fell into that category, so I organised a skiing trip for January 20, 2020.

Due to the large demand for the trip, only a few places were left for us. We then decided that those of us that have never experienced snow to go.

So my wife and I, together with two girls (one from PNG) and a male student. While away on the ski trip, those who remained had some fun, cooking and eating various kinds of foods.

Having fun together strengthened our bonding and it was difficult for us to part ways.

Lockdown period

January 23, 2020 was the day the City of Wuhan of 11 million people came to a standstill.

With the movement of the people in and out of Wuhan, nine million were stranded in Wuhan.

At exactly 1000hrs, the buses stopped, the metros stopped, the railways heading out of Wuhan halted and all borders of Wuhan City were shut. Police checkpoints were erected in various designated places around the city.

My wife and I together with two female and five male students were locked down in our apartment.

Therefore, a total of nine adults were cramped in a tiny apartment. With the lockdown coming as a surprise to many, universities started to track down its students and so did our Embassy in Beijing.

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It was after a week or two that arrangements were made to transport those students back to their universities and into quarantine.

In tracking all Fijians in Wuhan we discovered that there were a total of 13 Fijians living in Wuhan. Fortunately three students had departed Wuhan well before lockdown.

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The Ghost City

When the city of Wuhan went on lockdown, there was an eerie feeling that flooded the city. Everyone stayed indoors. One person from each family was allowed to go and get supplies for one hour after every 5 days.

On the streets were empty buses, parked taxis, parked public cars and public bicycles. O

ne of those days during lockdown, my wife and I were granted permission to go out for some supplies. We walked the streets that was always busy during normal times. Shops were closed, and there was absolutely no one in sight.

My wife was so intrigued by the emptiness of the street and started to take selfies in the middle of the road. By that time I had walked far ahead of her. It was then that the movie, “Walking Dead” came to her mind.

With empty buses and cars parked along the road, fear gripped her as she thought that she was living a nightmare where every soul had turned into zombies.

She started to run towards me as she approached me she threw a punch on my back. I turned around and then she laughed as she was expecting to see a zombie face.

At that stage there was a deafening silence that was prevalent throughout the city. Everyone was confined, staying indoors as the reality of the effect of the virus dawned on people. It was so quiet that we could hear the conversation of people on the other side of the building.

So quiet that even when the wind blew, we would hear the sound of dry leaves, from the 29th floor.

Apart from that, the only other sound that we would hear were that of emergency vehicles on the streets transporting patients to hospitals.

Evacuation

At the height of the spread of the virus, many countries around the world started to evacuate its citizens out of Wuhan.

There were repatriation flights organised by them because there was an urgency to get these foreigners out of Wuhan.

Australia and New Zealand governments also organised charted flights from Wuhan to Cairns and Auckland respectively. Both countries extended an invitation to Pacific Island countries to capitalise on this opportunity while repatriating its citizens.

Initially, I had wanted for my wife and I to get out of Wuhan.

The desire was so strong that we were willing to cover the cost of the repatriation.

However, after lengthy discussions with my wife and consultation with the Fiji Embassy in Beijing we decided to stay back in Wuhan for the following reasons:

n From China’s experience in dealing with SARS, we were confident that the Chinese Government was well equipped to deal with the new mysterious virus;

  • At that very moment, the best of China’s medical personnel were concentrated in Wuhan and should we be infected, we would have access to cutting edge medical technology;
  • Some students decided to stay back due to financial constraints. Being the most senior student, my wife and I thought that it would be appropriate for us to stay back and provide some moral support; and,
  • If we were infected, the virus had the capacity to be dormant in the human body for a long period of time, so we just did not want to be the conduit of the virus spreading to our families.

Two Fijians managed to get on the repatriation flight to Auckland and after 14 days quarantine, flew to Fiji.

The Good Samaritan

The lockdown brought out a lot of good in people. There was a genuine care from the Chinese people towards us foreigners. Truckloads of vegetables would be delivered to universities and communities.

The locals in the community that we resided in collaborated with each other and made sure no foreigner in the community was left hungry.

At times some of them would make cooked meals and deliver it to the foreigners. Other times it would be just raw vegetables and rice. Group chats were established to ensure foreigners were able to excess the best deals in terms of groceries and toiletries.

During that period, there are some individuals that I would like to mention that went the extra mile to assist us:

  • Kesa Naisara, a teacher in an International School in Suzhou had been a pillar of strength for us. Her encouragement and constant check on us had always provided a breath of fresh air. There were times that we were desperately in need that she was able to step in and assist us. She was really God sent and we deeply appreciate her life.
  • A Defence Attaché based in Beijing heard of the shortage of mask, hand sanitizers and surgical gloves in Wuhan, braved the drive from Beijing to Wuhan just to supply me with these items. This military officer showed extreme courage and genuine care to humanity in general.

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

  • The is Part 2 of the continuing analysis of Eroni Duaibe’s account in a city where the first COVID-19 case emerged last year.

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