Sophie Hunt is an alumnus of the University Of Nottingham and former Online Editor of Impact Magazine. She was also one of the many British nationals who had to be evacuated from Wuhan due to the outbreak of Covid-19 (the novel coronavirus). An invaluable interview with Alex from the magazine reveals her experience of the outbreak, quarantine and evacuation process.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and why you were in Wuhan?
I graduated from the University of Nottingham last year in July with a degree in English. I moved to Wuhan last October to teach English in a private training centre and I planned to stay there for a year.
When was your first experience of the novel Coronavirus?
I was in Shenzhen, a city in southern China, visiting two friends to celebrate New Year. On 31st December I got a phone call from a friend in Wuhan. He told me that there had been an outbreak of an unnamed virus in a seafood market in Hankou, near to where I lived. That was the first time I heard about the virus, but at the time nobody knew what it was or what had caused it.
How long after that did the virus start to have an effect on your day to day life?
Pretty much immediately. After I returned to work the day after New Year, a lot of my colleagues were concerned about the virus, particularly due to the ambiguity surrounding it. In my school we were told to prioritise the safety of staff and students even more. Before each class the temperature of each student was measured and hand sanitiser was provided. Lots of people started to wear medical masks out and about to protect themselves.
“As soon as I heard the news, I went to Walmart to stock up on food and supplies and masks as I knew it wouldn’t be safe to go outside for a while”
Were there other measures taken by the school, the local government, or the national government to prevent the spread of the virus? Did they affect you in any way?
As far as I know, apart from the above mentioned, there was no official word from the Chinese authorities until the national holiday for the Chinese New Year started, which was 23rd January. On that day, it was announced that all forms of public transport had stopped, including the metro, trains and planes. I was supposed to be flying to Thailand that morning for a week-break. As soon as I heard the news, I went to Walmart to stock up on food and supplies and masks as I knew it wouldn’t be safe to go outside for a while. I was then housebound for a week. Shortly after the 23rd all cars and vehicles were banned too, apart from emergency vehicles. I think the government made the right decision in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
What was your experience of being housebound like?
It was bearable for me because I had a flat mate, Jason, who also went to the university. But after a while I was struggling. It was worrying because I didn’t know how long it would last for and the news was getting progressively worse each day, with the number of people infected and the death toll. I was in touch with the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] and there was talk of an evacuation flight. I appeared on BBC news twice to try and raise awareness of what was happening in Wuhan. I was evacuated out of Wuhan on the flight which landed in the UK on Friday 31st January.
“Unfortunately a considerable number of British nationals didn’t make it to the airport on time and there are still people trapped in Wuhan”
Do you believe that enough was done to get you out of Wuhan?
I think the FCO did all they could under the circumstances, also considering the fact that they had to get permission from the Chinese government to go ahead with plans. Since the flight details were provided last minute, unfortunately a considerable number of British nationals didn’t make it to the airport on time and there are still people trapped in Wuhan.
After everything has died down, will you be returning to Wuhan to continue your teaching?
Yes, I plan to return to Wuhan as soon as it is safe to do so.
Is there anything else you would like to say about the incident as a whole?
The staff here at Arrow Park have been incredible since we arrived two weeks ago for isolation. My thoughts and condolences are with the people I have left behind in Wuhan, my friends, colleagues, students and their families.