This ought to be a normal annual holiday in my hometown, Wuhan. However, the spread of the coronavirus has changed everything, even the world.
Prior to my journey back to Wuhan, I read some news in the local newspapers reporting that several unusual diseases had been found in Wuhan, which have similar symptoms to SARS. However, at the beginning nearly no-one took it seriously, including me. I still felt quite excited to fly back home, which wasn´t affected by this unproven news at all.
On 18th January, I arrived in Wuhan. Everything seemed very normal. There were busy metros with plenty of people without any masks. On social media, I could not find any virus-related news either. It should be a normal Chinese New Year, I thought at that time.
A few unofficial virus-related news reports began to circulate in my private WeChat groups, claiming that several hospitals were filled with dangerous and highly infectious patients. I was advised by some insiders to DEFINITELY wear a mask on the streets. For sure, I followed this advice. Unfortunately, only few people did the same. Most of them were still actively participating in different Chinese New Year parties without adequate disinfection nor proper social distancing, as our government still had not published any official statement on this issue.
Things were getting worse and worse. Finally, they admitted the existence of the virus officially. From then on, citizens started to get worried about the situation in Wuhan. Most families decided to cancel gatherings for celebrating the Chinese New Year, including my family.
On 22nd January, perhaps due to anxiety, I got a fever, with my temperature once reaching 39°C. I could not help wondering whether I was infected with the coronavirus as well. Should I go to hospital to have a test? What if I really do have the virus? Am I going to die? Such worrying questions came to my mind far too much at that time. After a brief calm, I got some pills, set my annoying phone aside and carried on sleeping.
On 23rd January, I awoke at 11 o’clock. Luckily the fever had retreated. Thank God the corona disease had not happened to me. Nevertheless, an even worse and more astonishing thing happened on that day: Wuhan started to be locked down from 10 a.m. onwards.
Actually, this news was published at 2 a.m. I heard that from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. many citizens started to escape from Wuhan, including some of my relatives and friends. “Is it a war?” I asked myself. “Am I still dreaming or is this reality?“ I asked my parents. As we suffered SARS in 2003, I just cannot believe such a virus would really result in a lockdown, which was the most horrible and unbelievable thing what I have experienced till now.
Unfortunately, yes. We were locked down and isolated. Wuhan was at that time becoming a big prison for all of us.
It was Chinese New Year’s Eve, which was destined to be the most special one for all Wuhan-ers. We could not celebrate with all family members, having instead to stay at home, praying for the health of my family and friends and the rapid disappearance of this disaster.
That night, all elite medical teams from different cities were gathered instantly and dispatched to Wuhan promptly. Seeing the assistance coming in from outside, I gradually felt a trace of hope and warmth. I could not help but think that everything would be normal very soon. At least, I tried to make myself believe that it wouldn’t last long.
Even though all public transport and taxies were forbidden from operating, we could still walk around a bit to get some fresh air. Observing the totally empty streets without any people or cars, I started to feel sorrowful and desperately missed those days of busy roads filled with crowds.
The number of infections and deaths was increasing rapidly every day. All news online at that time was either about the situation in Wuhan or the disinfection measures. Meanwhile, I tried to convince myself that everything should be more or less fine, and Wuhan will be reopened soon so that I could return to Germany before long.
This day was supposed to be the day of my return journey, but from then on, we were not even allowed to walk outside the housing estate. It meant we were totally in “PRISON”. I had not imagined that I would have the chance to experience life in prison even though I didn’t do anything wrong!
How could the “jailer” provide us with food? It is truly a question. We cannot starve to death before even becoming infected!
They came up with a solution for supplying food, in that community staff together with lovely volunteers provided the food order list based on the capacity of nearby supermarkets or local food suppliers, then distributed the food to each family after the list was filled out. Thanks to their great efforts, we could be far from starving, although we didn’t have many choices on the list. After all, it is an abnormal period in which we cannot expect more.
Due to the lockdown in Wuhan, more and more Wuhan-ers in other cities were discriminated against, as they were considered to be bringing the virus with them. Even though they had lived there for a long time, they were still shunned because of their Wuhan-ID card. How unreasonable and crazy people can be! Purely furious was how I felt at that time.
I finally gave up the thought that I could fly back to Germany soon, because the situation was completely out of control and no-one could give an answer as to when everything would go back to normal.
Therefore, I started to work partly from China using my private notebook in a limited way. In any case, I would not like to be away from my work for a long time. On the one hand, my life could not be that boring. On the other hand, work can help me out of such a depressed feeling.
I was getting more and more bored at home, even though I could always stay with my parents. Can you imagine when you were really with your family for 24 hours every day in a closed space for 40 days? I assumed that no one would really like this life, which proved to be horrible.
After the implementation of such extremely strict measures for 40 days, the situation in Wuhan was finally relatively stable and controllable. Nevertheless, in the meantime, Europe was getting worse. My parents even made an inappropriate joke at that time: “let us guess whether the reopening of Wuhan is faster than the lockdown of Europe or the other way around”. To be honest, I really doubted that I could fly back to Europe in March even if Wuhan could be open in that month. Everything was changing too fast.
With the green code in Alipay or WeChat, I could eventually walk outside the housing estate. Please let me take a deep breath to feel the open air!
Unfortunately, the streets were still empty and the shops or restaurants were still closed, with only a few passers-by on the wide roads keeping proper distances. Is this still the Wuhan I have known for 28 years? How could it be a giant prison for almost two months?
After 77 days, Wuhan was reopened, on 8th April! However, Germany was still at risk. My parents began to worry about my return journey and gradually shifted their focus to the situation in Baden-Württemberg. Apparently, they wished that I should not determine my return date at such an early stage and could stay in Wuhan for as long as possible, which seemed to be a safer city compared to other places.
27th April, 2020
After a long period of observation on the spread of coronavirus in Germany, I decided to organize my return trip to Stuttgart, although all my family members and friends were skeptical about the situation in Stuttgart. I still insisted, as my life should go on and not just in isolation.
Something more complicated was coming, since the international flights were heavily reduced to avoid the further worldwide spread. Having no alternative, I was forced to abandon the previous return journey, which actually can only be operated after August. Then I bought another much more expensive one-way flight ticket.
29th April, 2020
Time to fly back, after multiple adjustments to the flight combinations, as everything was changing too fast! But finally. After an early flight from Wuhan, a 15-hour “short” stay at Guangzhou Airport, a 12-hour almost entirely empty international flight (20 out of 400 seats were booked), and an 8-hour national train trip including three stops, I successfully arrived at Stuttgart main station.
To summarize: It was definitely a remarkable experience in my life.