The emergence of a new virus

In the week of 13 January 2020, I was helping organize a hackathon event in Nairobi, Kenya and knew little about what was happening back in China. Not until 20 January when I heard the first time that a new SARS-like virus emerged in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province. The word ‘SARS’ touched my nerve as we know how much harm it did to the country and her people in 2003. The first patient was reportedly to be confirmed on 1 December 2019. By 1 January 2020, there were only 41 patients confirmed with SARS-like pneumonia, most of who were believed to have direct contact with a local seafood market which was believed to be the origin of the virus. The central government sent two expert teams within three weeks. With more patients who did not have any traceable contact with the seafood market being diagnosed, the human-to-human transmissibility was determined and announced to the public nationwide on 20 January. This triggered the alarm and elevated the emergence response system to the highest level in all provinces.    

The Chinese New Year and the lockdowns

Upon approaching the biggest festive holiday Spring Festival, there was a huge number of travels in and out Wuhan for family reunions. My cousin works in the city and his scheduled train back home, the neighbouring province, was on 23 January when the Wuhan lockdown was mandatorily enforced. By then, there were a total of 571 confirmed patients in the entire nation. Wuhan, a transportation hub with a population of 11 million, suddenly hit the pause button and became unusually silent. My cousin had a chance to travel back home but eventually decided to stay to minimise the potential risks of exposing himself and his loved ones due to the travel. Part of me wished he could have gone back to his family, but I am profoundly proud of him for what he was doing. Following Wuhan, all other cities and provinces subsequently enforced lockdown. I spent days convincing my family not to visit others during the holiday and calming them while there was a widespread panic in the society. These were small things but the least we could do for our loved ones and to support frontline workers.

A collective fight

Within the first couple weeks of lockdown, the outbreak hit the city most heavily and the Wuhan health system soon collapsed due to the exponentially increasing number of patients. My heart went up and down every day with what was happening there. The first things I did when I woke up every morning were checking the figures, updates and desperately hoping to see a flattened curve. These figures were not cold numbers but lost loved ones of hundreds of families. There were sentimental moments one could never forget: tolls the protective masks took on medical workers’ faces, exhausted doctors and nurses sleeping on the floor, emotionally collapsed frontline workers with insufficient protective equipment working non-stop for weeks, the loss of Dr Wenliang Li who was one of the whistleblowers due to the infection, thousands of health workers in other provinces joining the battlefield in Hubei, a quick hug between a physician couple in a hospital corridor after recognizing each other wearing several layers of protective suits, local residents dropping off food and masks at hospital receptions, HIV-positive patients voluntarily donating anti-viral drugs when information sources suggested potential effectiveness in treating COVID patients, community workers coordinating and mobilizing resources to support people staying home, volunteering drivers keeping the transportation alive for medical workers, the delivery of medical equipment and other essential goods, so on and so forth. The daily new confirmed cases in Hubei started to go down 18 days since the lockdown. After the 76-day complete lockdown and collective fight, Wuhan lifted the strict control measures on 8 April and gradually resumes to normalcy. There are unfortunately no winners in a war against a pandemic like COVID-19. Totally, more than 83 thousand were confirmed COVID-19 patients, and over 3 thousand have sadly died in China, with >96% of deaths in Hubei province. The virus knows no boundaries, regardless of our age, gender, or skin of colour. But there are effective cures. I have faith that, if each and every one of us becomes a fighter in the frontline, however small the contributions we could possibly make, we can beat the virus.