Coronavirus: Family reunions on hold as more Singaporeans return from Wuhan

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Qu Haiyan, 41, has not seen her husband Faisal Bushfield, 54, and their children Arden, 5, and Ariane, 6, since they were separated in Wuhan amid the coronavirus outbreak. PHOTO: Faisal Bushfield/Qu Haiyan

SINGAPORE — Ten days after 92 Singaporeans were evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, some 174 more Singaporeans and their families came home on Sunday morning (9 January).

TR5121, mounted by budget carrier Scoot, took off from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport around 4am and touched down at Changi Airport at about 830am with 174 passengers and their family members. Many had chosen not to take the first flight home on 30 January as their wives and dependants are Chinese nationals, and China had initially forbidden its citizens from leaving the country.

Among the passengers on the latest flight are Chinese national spouses and children who previously stayed on in China, after making the agonising decision of letting their Singaporean family members leave first on the earlier flight.

An authorisation notice issued by the virus control authorities in Hubei, seen by Yahoo News Singapore, authorised Singapore's evacuation of 199 individuals from Wuhan. Many of them came from cities in Hubei such as Huanggang and Chibi, some 75km and 125km away from Wuhan respectively, and which have also been locked down alongside the provincial capital.

The passengers had to arrange their own transport, while the notice was required to get through the many checkpoints on the way to the airport, which involved multiple temperature screenings.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the flight was accompanied by MFA consular officers and medical personnel. Those with fever or respiratory symptoms will be taken to designated hospitals for further examination, while the remaining passengers will serve a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

So the family reunions will have to wait for now, even though those who came home on 30 January are already into the 10th day of their mandatory quarantine. The returning passengers have been sent to quarantine locations in places such as Buona Vista, Loyang, Changi and Pasir Ris.

It is unclear if the remainder of the 199 individuals cleared to leave Wuhan were able to do so, or if any Singaporeans are still in Hubei province. Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to MFA with queries on the matter.

A ‘great feeling’ to be home

Besides the hectic process of getting to the airport, the passengers had to endure a long wait there - just getting to the departure gate took two hours, as there were also British and Australian nationals waiting for their own flights home. Each passenger was also required to fill up a form detailing their movements and where they stayed in Hubei, before taking several more temperature screenings.

The flight, which was originally scheduled scheduled for just past midnight, eventually took off just before 4am.

Speaking to Yahoo News Singapore via text from the Wuhan airport, Gary Lim, 40, who had remained with his 28-year-old wife in her hometown of Yingcheng, said it was a “great feeling” to be returning to Singapore. Asked how he felt about going into quarantine, he was stoic.

“Nothing beats being at home (but) quarantine is being responsible to oneself and to society,” said Lim, who works in the insurance industry. “My company fully supports me and it really makes me so happy that my company does not give me up despite my absence from work.”

Andrew Ang, 36, joked that “we dare not touch nor contact with anyone here”, but was equally resigned about going into quarantine. Ang, who works in retail sales, had also chosen to remain in China, alongside his 37-year-old wife and their two young children previously. “(The quarantine) is a good decision to take care of the rest and the nation. So we understand.”

The passengers are returning home at an uneasy time - overnight, seven more confirmed cases of the coronavirus were announced in Singapore on Sunday, bringing the total number to 40. Authorities have urged Singaporeans not to hoard food or essentials, following a bout of panic buying after the disease outbreak response level was raised to Dorscon Orange.

Relieved, yet worried

Upon arrival from Wuhan, 174 Singaporeans and their family members awaiting processing and quarantine at Changi Airport on the morning of Sunday, 9 February 2020. PHOTO: Qu Haiyan

For business development manager David Cher, 40, who came home on the first flight, the knowledge that four of the 92 Singaporeans who came home have since been diagnosed with the coronavirus has him worried.

His Chinese national wife Hu Lamei, 36, and their two young children - aged eight months and 2.5 years - travelled by themselves from Hu’s hometown of Chibi to the airport to board the second flight. Speaking to Yahoo News Singapore before the flight took off, Cher said, “I’m a bit worried because I am not around (and) she is taking care of two kids and they are still very young.” 

Faisal Bushfield, 54, and his wife Qu Haiyan, 41, had decided that he would return to Singapore on the first flight with their children Arden, 5, and Ariane, 6, without her, as it was felt the children would be safer back home than in Wuhan.

Speaking before the second flight took off from Wuhan, Bushfield said he is simply relieved that his wife is “out of the hot zone”, and the family can be reunited again. He and the two children, alongside the passengers from the first flight, are currently serving their quarantine at Aloha Changi resort.

While the couple had initially told the children that their mother was staying back to take care of their grandparents, they would now have to weave a “different story” for them. “Mummy wants to make sure that we are together and all of us can fight the virus together as a family,” said Bushfield, who works for a Danish water pump manufacturer.

And their family reunion will take a while more - the couple, who are based in Taiwan, have reluctantly decided that Bushfield will return to the Taiwanese city of Taichung later this month with the children first, so as to minimise the disruption to their normal routine and school life. “We cannot do much while Haiyan is under quarantine (in Singapore), since there are no visitations,” said Bushfield, who also fears that Taiwanese authorities may not allow his wife to go back.

But Qu is simply feeling “lucky and grateful” that she was able to leave Wuhan. “My daughter was happy when she left for Singapore with Papa, because that means ‘play time’, but now she keeps asking me ‘Mommy, when are you coming home?’”

“I can’t wait to see my family in Singapore.”

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