I Couldn’t Leave China Without My Son – Coronavirus
After Wuhan was identified as the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus, Crystal Reid
FOR THE LAST THREE WEEKS, British nursery teacher Natalie Francis, her Chinese husband and their three-year-old son, Jamie, have been cooped up inside their high-rise flat in Wuhan. Jamie, who loves playing football outside and riding his bike, has had to get used to a life of arts and crafts and television, while Natalie, who imposed this quarantine upon her family, only ventured out herself three times, on each occasion alone, to buy food to keep them going. ‘It’s been hard,’ Natalie, 31, told Grazia last week. ‘We haven’t been getting any fresh air. Our energy levels have plummeted, we’re having trouble sleeping. Jamie has kept asking to go out and he gets frustrated when we say no. He doesn’t understand.’
Wuhan is in lockdown after being identified as the epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak. At the time of going to press, coronavirus has killed more than 213 people, mostly within Wuhan and the surrounding province, while confirmed cases have shot up to over 10,000. The virus has now spread far beyond China’s borders and, last Friday, two people had tested positive in the UK.
At first, it looked like Natalie’s family was going to be stuck in Wuhan indefinitely. Originally from York, Natalie was offered a provisional place on an evacuation flight planned by the British Government – but was then told she must leave her son behind. Having been born in China and currently, without a British passport, her child is, according to the law, between nationalities. However, Natalie was finally allowed to leave with Jamie late last Thursday on a special flight out of the city; her husband has chosen to stay behind to look after his parents. The 83 Britons and 27 foreign nationals on the flight had their temperatures taken before boarding. They were then required to wear a face mask for the entire journey, alerting crew members if they started feeling feverish. They have now been quarantined for two weeks in a hospital on the Wirral, Merseyside.
‘I know there’s a lot of contention about this situation in Wuhan, but I just wanted to save Jamie and get him out to Britain,’ says Natalie. ‘If they hadn’t let him on the plane, then I wasn’t going to leave.’ I was in Wuhan myself the day before lockdown. With near-constant drizzle and pollution levels more than three times the WHO’s safe limit, the city is unpleasant but largely unremarkable. On 22 January, I found myself walking around a park, eerily bereft of children, while the adults, loaded down with groceries, were preparing for the Chinese Lunar New Year, a festival that lasts for around 10 days. Like everyone else, I was wearing a mask, sweaty and cloying against my nose and mouth. But,
as I safely boarded a flight to Shanghai that evening, having breezed through security, I had no idea that in 12 hours’ time, everything would have changed.
The announcement that the city of 11 million would be shut off from the world came in the middle of the night as Wuhan’s remaining residents slept. By the time many woke on 23 January, soldiers were blocking the entrances of the city’s train stations, airports, and highways, with no one allowed in or out. The move to lock down a city the size of London is unprecedented in the modern history of epidemics.
Coronavirus, part of a group of potentially lethal respiratory infections, was discovered among the stalls of Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market on 31 December. Among its fishy offerings, the wholesale hub was also known for stocking all manner of wild and exotic meat, including hedgehogs, porcupines and wolf pups, with the most likely culprits of the outbreak being live snakes or bats, according to Chinese researchers. While the market has been off-limits, lying empty beyond barricades, police tape and security guards since the first day of 2020, the virus itself is far from contained.
Adam Kamradt-Scott, a specialist in global health security at Sydney University, praised the Chinese government for implanting such ‘unusual and rare’ measures but said the lockdown could be giving the international community a false sense of security. ‘If there’s local transmission [outside of Wuhan] the methods are too little too late,’ he said.
With an incubation period of up to 14 days and suggestions that the virus could be transmitted when carriers are asymptomatic, there is currently no telling how long the lockdown will last. Confined to their homes and with workplace start dates indefinitely suspended, Wuhan locals and ex-pats alike are having to make their own entertainment. Videos of inventive indoor games have been circulating in social media groups. After fights broke out in the aisles and supermarket shelves were stripped bare by frantic shoppers in the immediate hours after the shutdown was announced, most shops are now at least fully stocked again with food. But as the city’s typically active takeout and grocery delivery options have all but vanished, those too fearful to leave home are hunkering down for the long-haul.
Winnie Conrad, a 23-year-old English teacher from Texas, hasn’t left her apartment since the lockdown began. Rationing what she has in her cupboards, she’s been eating just one meal a day but says she’ll be forced to go outside when supplies run out. ‘As far as I can tell, the situation in Wuhan is still extremely dangerous and dire,’ she told Grazia. ‘From where I’m sitting, there’s no end in sight.’