A Keralite’s recollection of the wonder days in China

Dr Anila P Ajayan

Medical workers help transfer patients into the newly-completed Huoshenshan temporary field hospital in Wuhan | AP

By 2021-end, I bid farewell to Wuhan- my Second Home- Home away from Home. ‘Second Home’ yes, it was indeed my Second Home, the place where I freely travelled day and night fearlessly, wore whatever clothes I liked, freely smiled, and said Hello/ Ni’hao; to a stranger/ Wuhan’ian and lived totally as an independent woman.

I started my journey from Kerala to Wuhan on 2 September 2019. Even if it was my first time traveling to China, I’ve prepared myself mentally to stay there for two years as a post-doctoral researcher and was hoping to come for vacations at least half-yearly. But then things changed all of a sudden due to the pandemic. Lockdown in Wuhan, Indian Government’s evacuation programs, the fear of staying lonely in an apartment for days or months, shortage of food supplies, and the fear of getting infected with the coronavirus or not… All these dilemmas slowly came to an end as I took the right decision “I’ll stay in Wuhan”. Although there were many reasons to stay back in Wuhan, the main reason was, I do not want to be a virus carrier to India. I was educated myself from the science articles and the discussions in our WeChat group for this virus transmission and infections during the early days of the epidemic in Wuhan. And was sure that I may be infected while I was going out with my friends and colleagues during weekends and my regular visits to Wuhan University canteen for having my winter favourite dish – ‘Rèlà jī chǎofàn’ as my dinner. Anyhow, the situation got changed slowly and came back to normal as the Chinese government ruled by the strong Communist Party of China made strict regulations during the pandemic. I have never seen Chinese people hesitant to follow those strict policies, now and then. Although politicians, governments, and policymakers around the globe started blaming China for their strict rules during the lockdown, the Chinese government was working hard to eradicate the virus from the streets, public places including offices and institutions, etc. As a person who lived in Wuhan during those days, I can say that lockdown is a good procedure to curb the virus spread provided disinfecting the places evenly everywhere. Because I’ve witnessed this kind of disinfection even in our institute apartment and our campus daily twice. Months after the first reporting of cases in Wuhan, this central Chinese city, the capital of Hubei Province still maintains zero virus infections till date. The three simple steps they took are thermal screening, health code scanning and entry only by wearing masks which continues everywhere. The health code scanning helps the health department and officials to trace the infected person if entered, the time of entry, and other places of travel accurately. We get such route maps shared even when a single case is detected in Wuhan.

Travelers wear face masks as they walk outside the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing | AP

People use only N95 or surgical masks whereas cloth masks are not used by anyone. Along with vaccinating all the eligible categories started late 2020 itself, now China has begun giving booster doses to the frontline workers. Well, even though the situations in Wuhan are under control and maintain zero covid cases, people are still aware that another lockdown is unimaginable for them. When and after going for their festival vacations or holidays, right after entering back to the city, people go for covid testing voluntarily to make sure they are not infected or they are not going to infect others.

Well, I’m saying bye to Wuhan with a myriad of emotions. The joy of meeting my family and friends after a long while is there. Goodbye to all those virtual hugs, kisses, dinners, family chats, festivals although fear of new virus variant- Omicron is also there. The friendship I made here- from strangers, colleagues to good friends it took less time for me and them. Anyhow, the words kindness, freedom, joy, peace and love will reflect in my heart endlessly forever whenever I think back about my days in Wuhan! I hope to visit again this place once the pandemic is ends.

(The author is Post Doctoral Researcher at the Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan)

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