David and his wife are Chinese Americans. Since immigrating to the United States over 30 years ago, this Lunar New Year was going to be the first time they would spend the holiday in their hometown—Wuhan city in central China’s Hubei province.
They never expected that a deadly virus outbreak would get in their way.
“We had planned to get together with our relatives during the holiday,” David said in a recent interview with The Epoch Times. “My emotions right now are hard to describe.”
To protect his family members in China, David wished to identify himself with a pseudonym.
David learned that his sister in China was diagnosed with cancer. He didn’t want to miss the chance to see her, possibly for the last time.
“We arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 17 by plane, and started to visit our old friends after taking a short rest,” David said.
That day, David was told by one of his friends in Wuhan that the coronavirus outbreak was more serious than how the Chinese central government and local government described it. He thus decided to return to the United States as soon as possible.
But the earliest available flight tickets were on Feb. 25.
“The news on local TV channels kept saying that the virus didn’t have human-to-human transmission. On the evening of Jan. 22, the Wuhan government organized a large scale Lunar New Year gala,” David said. After midnight, it locked down the entire city. “The Chinese government’s behavior made me speechless. I am extremely angry with them.”
After the city was under quarantine, David said he witnessed many tragedies.
“More and more people became sick. Many people shared videos online but they were removed by censors within minutes. The healthy people became more and more scared and were in a panic,” David said.
Food prices also skyrocketed as people stockpiled goods. “Vegetables became very expensive,” David said.
Rumors, later proven false, began spreading that people who violate quarantine and escape from Wuhan will be imprisoned for seven years, and that the Chinese military had entered the city and planned to take over local hospitals.
“Since then, we could hear people screaming every night. It’s scary. People tried to release their anxiety by screaming,” David said.
Luckily, David received a notice from the U.S. Embassy in China, informing him and his wife that they could be evacuated from Wuhan on Feb. 4.
The U.S. consulate office in Wuhan took down the names and addresses in Wuhan of each evacuee. The office also arranged cars to pick them up and bring them to the airport.
David complained that Wuhan government staff and airport authorities did not seem helpful.
“We spent more than 14 hours at the airport waiting for the take-off permit. We boarded the plane at 7:00 a.m. of Feb. 5. Then, the plane didn’t take off until almost two hours later,” David said.
He felt relief afterwards. “From the moment the city was locked down, to when we boarded the plane, every minute was suffering for me, and full of anxiety,” David said.
Safety in the United States
On the plane, medical staff ensured passengers’ health by giving them a new N95 facial mask to change into every four hours.
After arriving at the Travis Air Force Base in northern California, David and his fellow evacuees received a medical check-up. Then, he and other healthy passengers were transported to a quarantine center at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, which is close to San Diego, California.
“Finally, we are home!” David said. “The quarantine center is like a hotel. The room has a private bathroom and a kitchen. Life there is very convenient. We had people to help clean and disinfect the room every day.”
David said life in the quarantine center was actually quite relaxing. Nurses screened their body temperatures twice per day. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) staff reported to them about the outbreak situation every day, while working staff supplied enough food, fruits, and snacks to them.
“About 60 to 70 percent of the evacuated people are Chinese-American. The quarantine center prepared a lot of Chinese snacks for us, such as instant noodles. They even bought Lao Gan Ma brand chili sauce just for us,” David said.
David said that evacuees were allowed to move around freely in the quarantine center, but were required to wear masks at all times and to keep at least six feet away from each other.
“The working staff also invited a musician band from the Third Marine Corps, who performed a concert for us… It was very encouraging,” David said.
He said they received good care at the quarantine center. CDC staff made sure to explain to evacuees why they performed tests on some of the quarantined people.
“We are back to normal life now,” David said. “I really appreciate all the support and help from friends, and the good care from U.S. government staff.”
David said he will never forget this experience. “We witnessed history … I believe that in the future, our children can learn this history from textbooks.”