Nudged by her parents to spend Lunar New Year at her hometown in Tianmen, Hubei – something she had missed for the last six years – Sonia Shao, Paediatrics Staff Nurse from Parkway Shanghai People Square Hospital, thought her biggest challenge was braving the massive travel rush. That was until COVID-19 came to be.

Following news that the new virus can transmit between people, Sonia was cautious during her brief transit at the Wuhan train interchange. Nothing was peculiar except that more young people were masked up. In fact, everything seemed run-of-the-mill when she reached her hometown in the wee hours of 22 January.

At 8am the next day, news broke that Wuhan would be locked down in two hours’ time. Before she knew it, Tianmen came under lockdown the day after, leaving her no chance to return to Shanghai. Like millions of others, Sonia learnt to cope with the new norm, as restricted movement evolved into a total ban from leaving the house in a matter of days. As time went by, her anxiety grew as the day she was supposed to report for work drew nearer.

“My Director of Nursing called me and told me not to worry. I was grateful for her reassurance. Meanwhile I kept up with what was happening at work through our WeChat group. My colleagues were constantly asking me about my well-being.”

On 20 March, travel restrictions in Tianmen were eased after 14 straight days of zero Covid-19 cases. By 23 March, the road was cleared for her to head back to Shanghai, which she did that same afternoon with her father behind the steering wheel during the 12-hour drive. Back at work on 27 March, Sonia was touched by the warm welcome she received from her colleagues and the little festive gifts that had been waiting for her for more than two months.