When Bella boarded the high speed rail to return her hometown in Yichang, Hubei on 17 January 2020, little did she know that her family Lunar New Year celebration would soon turn into two and a half months of staying at home.
"After Wuhan was locked down on 23 January, my manager called me late night on the 24th urging me to quickly return to Shanghai as the COVID-19 situation was getting serious. By 10am the next day, I was at the train station with my luggage in tow trying to make my way back despite knowing I would be quarantined for 14 days once I reached Shanghai. To my shock, all transport lines had closed as Yichang too came under lockdown."
As she witnessed the number of COVID-19 cases rise exponentially in what was the epicentre of the outbreak, Bella’s fears and anxiety were abated somewhat by all the well-wishes and encouragement she received from her colleagues, even though they were more than 1,000km apart.
"We kept in regular contact through WeChat and they constantly reminded me to take care and keep safe. When my landlord in Shanghai ended my lease, my colleague helped me pack up my stuff and safekept them for me until I eventually returned."
By the time the COVID-19 situation came under control, Bella’s fears morphed into guilt, knowing that her fellow colleagues were performing their duties at the front line while she could do nothing to help from home.
On 2 April, after a lot of help from her HR colleagues to get her health documentation verified, Bella finally reunited with her colleagues and resumed her duties. Donned in full PPE for the first time, she was all ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with her team mates to take on any challenges that come their way.
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 thought her biggest challenge was braving the massive travel rush. That was until COVID-19 came to be.
Everything was still run-of-the-mill when she reached her hometown in the wee hours of 22 January. However, 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.