Family fears leaving China as global number of COVID-19 cases continue to soar

  • Family of four fear leaving China as they feel it's the safest place to be
  • Containment of Covid-19 currently under control in the country

A British family of four currently in Nanning, China fear leaving the province as the coronavirus situation worsens outside the country.

Tom, from North Yorkshire, a father of two young boys, and husband to Mei, were planning to return to England several weeks ago but their flight was cancelled. 

He said: “If the airlines think it’s unsafe for staff, it’s probably going to be unsafe for us.

“We were worried about the children, Jack suffers from asthma and our youngest is only one.”

Having looked at the World Health Organisation website, the family felt they were safer to stay in Nanning, as there has not been any cases there in over two weeks.

During a Skype call to China, Tom said: “People in China have given up a lot of freedom and income. They have made enormous efforts with sending nursing staff from all over the country to Wuhan and elsewhere in Hubei.

“They have made great sacrifices compared to the rest of the world.

“Some may say that the people here have a responsibility because the virus started here, but they’ve done all they can to improve the situation.

“The rest of the world have been slow to wake up, people in the west don’t give up their freedom so easily.”

Talking about life in Nanning, he said: “If you go out in the daytime and get seen without a mask, people will pull you up on it, and if you’re not wearing it properly, they’ll tell you.

“Our local park was shut for a while, but now when you go in, you have to scan a sort of QR code, to register yourself on a system, and then scan out when you leave. 

Regular temperature checks being carried out
A scene from Nanning in China

“The reason for this is that if someone later on is found to have the virus, and was there at the same time as yourself, they can track you down and then get you isolated if need be.

“As you go in there are security guards and sometimes police in black uniforms, they use an infra-red thermometer to measure your temperature on your hand or neck. They are making the efforts.”

Temperature checks are carried out at all supermarkets, department stores and many other shops, as well as at entrances to residential streets and communes. 

Access has been restricted to residents only, with cut-throughs barriered off with blue fencing to restrict traffic to main roads. 

In rural villages, locals have reportedly closed off incoming roads to prevent people coming and going due to fear of the virus.

The government now considers that the virus re-entering China from abroad is now a problem and all must now isolate for 14 days. 

Tom said: “Yesterday, I was refused entry to a residential commune because my passport visa stamp was not considered enough to prove that I had not just entered the country within this timeframe. 

“I had to acquire official, stamped paperwork from the local authorities, which I have now done.”

Strict measures are in place to control the spread of coronavirus

One procedure put in place for a time in Nanning was to give households a certain number of tickets. Every time they left their home they would give a ticket to authorised volunteers manning the street. 

The aim being to reduce the number of comings and goings.

Tom said: “This seems not to have been very practical or popular with residents and seems to have since been withdrawn now that the situation here has improved.”

He is concerned that people in the UK and the rest of the world are not taking the necessary precautions to prevent the virus spreading.

“I’ve spoken to people back home who don’t think anything will change, they’re not concerned,” Tom said.

When he returns home, he and his family will self-isolate for two weeks. 

Tom has been granted additional unpaid leave by his work, who have supported his request to self-isolate upon his return and then work from home. 

Tom and his family currently don’t know anybody who has contracted the virus in China, or in the UK.

But to be on the safe side, Tom said: “I want to self-isolate, I don’t want to be the person who brings a problem back to my local community. 

“As it stands, if you don’t show symptoms the UK government say you don’t have to isolate, but I think that’s irresponsible.

“When I come back, if I don’t self-isolate, and then someone in my community dies due to the virus, the finger will point to me and my family. I want to protect us from that criticism.

“We don’t want Jack to go back to school and parents be suspicious of him, because of his background and where he’s just come from. 

We want to demonstrate we’re taking maximum precautions.

Tom is concerned about his parents, both 89. He said: “I’m worried they don’t understand the gravity of the situation, if they catch it, it probably will kill them.

“It has arrived back very locally to my parents, and at the time, they were unaware.”

Tom told NQ the authorities have built another hospital in Nanning of 100 beds.

“It takes in any cases that happen in the whole of Guangxi,” he said.

“News channels demonstrate that everyone is pulling together – you’ll see images of people recovering and receiving bouquets of flowers when leaving the hospital, which is a regular shot on TV.”

“It provides a bit of cohesion, and reassures the public that maximum effort is being made.”

Tom arrived in China on 26 January, the second day of the Chinese New year, and said that when he arrived “it was deadly quiet, no traffic, no one walking around”.

He said: “Chinese New Year is equivalent to Christmas and it was effectively cancelled, with traditional large family dinner gatherings prohibited.

“There have been big sacrifices made by Chinese people through government direction.

“Usually there are fireworks and firecrackers for days, but this year, not a single one.”

Due to Chinese regulation of the media, Tom says he “spends hours trying to find out what’s going”. He says the virus is “on your mind all the time, you don’t not think about it for more than an hour a day”. 

The situation has recently changed in Nanning as businesses were able to open again at the end of February.

Tom said: “Everywhere was shut down where you were able to gather in numbers.

“Restaurants are re-opening but they’re only allowing less than 50% of their capacity and in some places instructed to close earlier.”

Empty streets of Nanning
Life is slowly returning to normal in Nanning

Mei’s cousin works as a nurse in a hospital and was asked to work in Hubei. Medical staff with no children were asked in particular to go. 

She says she knows a lot of people who have lost a lot of business but say they are not complaining because it helped prevent the virus spreading. 

A lot of business owners are now delivery men as they are in high demand at the moment as a lot of people are now ordering food to their homes.

“We are devoted to not only the country, but to the world, to delay the spread of the virus,” Mei said.

“Delivery in China is very popular. But the delivery men must leave you all their contact details, even their temperature, and you decide if you want to collect your order. 

“If someone returns from Hubei, they must self-isolate. The government will help you get food and medicine and drop it at your door. 

“The schools ask all the top teachers to record lessons and they put them on special apps and in chat rooms. The teacher can see everyone, they have to do exercises from home, sing songs from home and even wear uniform at home.

“All the parents must sign a contract to say the kids will still work.”

Mei said important exams have been delayed but that schools in Nanning will reopen at the end of the month. 

Pupils “will be given two masks a day, and have their temperature taken every couple of hours”.

Tom is considering coming back to England alone because he does not want to put his children or wife in any more danger than necessary.

He said: “In terms of the children, they might be safer here”. 

Tom said that the first thing he had heard from Boris Johnson was about “singing happy birthday and washing your hands”. 

Regular temperature checks being carried out at super markets
Shops and businesses carrying out temperature checks 

He added: “It sounded infantile, bearing in mind the seriousness of the situation. There’s obviously a lot more to be done than that as it’s also primarily an airborne virus.”

In contrast to the current situation in England, Tom said: “There has never been any shortage of food in the supermarkets in this province, other than face masks and hand sanitiser.

“Within the province of Hubei, they haven’t been out working or farming, so produce and food has been donated and transported carefully in disinfected trucks from other parts of China.

And those who have been told to isolate but haven’t, have been carted off.  Local residents will have reported them.

“People have stayed at home for weeks until now, especially in some parts of the city where cases have previously cropped up.

“The World Health Organization statistics show how effective the containment has been to Hubei.

“It looks like there are few examples of this success elsewhere in the world and instead, the best that can be done is to slow the advance to delay it until summer months and lessen the impact on hospitals.”