Coming home clean from Wuhan

This personal story is based on what I saw and experienced while I was in Wuhan, China and at a quarantine facility in Manesar, Haryana and back home in Manipur with a fitness medical certificate.

I thought it would immensely benefit the people of Manipur to recall and share my own experience in Wuhan and back home in the height of the coronavirus outbreak. This personal story is based on what I saw and experienced while I was in Wuhan, China and at a quarantine facility in Manesar, Haryana and back home in Manipur with a fitness medical certificate. The story has sprinklings of my personal views on the same.  

Origin of the Pandemic

In the first week of December 2019, I was told that Wuhan has been affected by Pneumonia/SARS like virus. In the last week of December last year, the virus infected five individuals. Thereafter, Wuhan authorities declared an emergency and took up drastic measures to deal with the spread of the virus. By the first week of January 2020, COVID-19 spread all across Wuhan but the local authorities failed to inform that it was indeed an outbreak. The first case of death due to COVID-19 took place in the second week of January this year. On January 23, the Hubei government in an effort to control the outbreak of the disease officially declared putting 11 million Wuhan residents under quarantine.

Experience from Wuhan Quarantine

Under strict rules, people were asked to stay in their own homes and confine in their rooms and the immediate effect was an escalation in the prices of essential items. As one of the effective measures, the Chinese government halted travel within the country. All those who were returning home from outside of their provinces and regions were put under surveillance and compulsory 14-day quarantine. Those whose results were negative in the 14-day period were allowed to return home. Those who were already at home were not allowed to move outside.

The streets of Wuhan wore a deserted look and not a single soul could be seen venturing out. The whole of Wuhan looked like a war zone. The areas which were badly affected were constantly monitored using all available technology. Robots and drones were utilized for delivering food and many areas were fumigated with disinfectant gas as preventive measures.

Authorities in charge of students distributed masks to inmates of hostels and dormitories besides regular checking of body temperature and spraying of disinfectants. Many who were not following the strict rules of quarantine were awarded punishment as one of the measures to control the spread of coronavirus. Those who were spreading rumours and wrong information in the social media were put behind bars.

When we bought essential items from outside and returned home, our mobile phones were sprayed with disinfectants and had to use hand sanitizers. The clothes we wore when we went outside had to be hung outside our hostels and apartments. Doors and windows of residences had to be opened for two or three hours so that the rooms were properly ventilated. Used masks had to be torn and thrown into bins and the items we bought from the market had to be disinfected with sprays. After this, we had to wash our hands with soap.

All of us had to undergo physical exercise within the rooms in an effort to boost our immunity. We were given good supply of nutritious food and had to drink only boiled water. In order to prevent dry throats, we had to gargle with ginger and salt water and made to take proper care of ourselves. All of us were banned from using intoxicants like alcohol and nicotine so that immunity levels did not suffer.

All the students in China who were studying in schools, colleges and universities were not allowed to go home and they were confined to their hostels and apartments as a measure to halt spreading of COVID-19. There were students who were allowed to go home after the government issued them permission. However, all of them were required to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine before they return home. Those who showed positive results with symptoms were required to stay for another period of 28-day quarantine. In areas suspected to be already infected, all the residents were required to undergo mandatory tests.

How I was evacuated from Wuhan 

On January 31, two special flights sent by the Government of India picked up 647 Indians and left Wuhan at 11 pm. Before the evacuation, all of us were required to sign a consent letter that says that all those Indians who were staying in Wuhan would be kept for 14-day quarantine at Manesar, Haryana and that those with COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive would be kept at another place for another 28-day quarantine.

From February 1, all of us who were airlifted from Wuhan were kept at an army training camp at Manesar, Haryana. Each of the available rooms accommodated 22 of us. All those suspected cases were shifted to other places. We were given very good diets, including bed tea, breakfast, lunch, evening tea and soups so that we could increase our immunity level. However, there were moments of fear too as not all the inmates were well informed about the usefulness of such quarantine.

After four days and a round of medical tests, nine people were identified as suspected cases but they turned out to be negative later. After 14 days of quarantine, another four days were added for another round of medical tests. Fortunately, all of us went for medical tests and turned out to be negative and were given medical certificates. Of the 647 Indians, two of us were from Manipur. We were also given medical certificates and were allowed to return home.

International Context

South Korea reacted in a swift manner after China announced the coronavirus outbreak and most of the citizens of the country had to undergo COVID-19 tests. All those who returned to the country were sent for tests and 14-day quarantine and those who were at home were not allowed to move out of their residences. South Korea believed that if the country had to protect itself from the outbreak of the virus, it should learn from the way how the Chinese government had dealt with the pandemic. It should be noted that South Korea spent 13.19 billion US dollars to fight the pandemic.

However, Italy could not make its preventive measures as successful as South Korea because the country did not go for mandatory testing of suspected cases and there were no compulsory quarantine in the initial phase as the country believed that imposition of measure would negate personal freedom and rights. The country also did not opt for timely lockdown and stop to and fro travel to the country. Those who returned home from abroad were not quarantined in time and Italy now has to bear the scourge of the COVID-19.

Here, it would be useful to note the information experts have given on availability of hospital beds per 1000 people. In India, for every 1000 people, the availability of beds is only 0.5, compared to 6.5 in France, 11.5 in South Korea, 4.2 in China, 3.4 in Italy ,2.9 in UK, 2.8 in the US and 1.5 in Iran. 

Manipur and COVID-19

In the context of Manipur, I would like to suggest that there should be maximum social awareness on the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. Basic needs of the people like masks, hand sanitizers, disinfectants etc. should be widely available.

All those who are returning home from outside the state or from foreign countries should be institutionally quarantined for 14 days and those with suspected symptoms should be kept for 28 days. All the citizens should be made familiar on the use of masks and other items for the prevention of COVID-19.

As the coronavirus keep spreading in India, I would suggest that all those foreigners and Indians entering Manipur should be kept in institutional quarantine for 14 days. Instead of spreading rumours and socially stigmatizing suspects, the public should extend all possible help to fight the pandemic.

There should be a seamless coordination between the government and private healthcare providers so that there is collective approach in fighting the pandemic. Hospital staff should wear internationally approved Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) items like masks, gloves, goggles, gowns, hand sanitizer, soap etc. Besides, the government should not allow quackery that promotes unproven or fraudulent medical practices in connection with COVID-19.

Last but not the least, I would like to state that when I returned from Wuhan and while I was in China, I never faced any racial discrimination. It is unfortunate that within a short span of time in India, we keep on hearing cases of racial slurs and discriminating abuses hurled at people of Northeast India origin in cities across the country. These incidents instead of solving the massive problems associated with the outbreak of COVID-19 will only heighten the sense of desperation. I hope we continue the fight in a collective way and halt the spread of the virus.

First Published: May 22, 2020, 12:51 a.m.