COVID-19 Around the World

Wenda, flying back from Singapore to China

Stories about COVID-19 from different corners of the world

“I am sorry Sir, due to the coronavirus outbreak in China, Citibank has stopped processing all flights booking to China using Citi Miles. I am sorry, I cannot book you a one-way ticket to CGO airport for tomorrow. But you can try booking through the airlines directly. Good luck Sir and take care…”

Damn it. I thought. I took a long breath, looked out from my window. I have always loved this home and its view. But today, the misty view seemed more ominous than before.

Took a deep breath, I hung up the phone with Citibank Customer Service and dialled another number.
… …
“Yes Sir, we still have the flight from Singapore to CGO, transiting through Kuala Lumpur for tomorrow, would you like me to make the booking for you?”
“Yes, please.”
“Sir, let me confirm a one-way ticket from SIN to CGO for tomorrow, is that correct?”
“Yes, yes. That is correct, and please proceed.”
… …

Finally, I have a ticket that (hopefully) could bring me home. This was 10th Feb 2020. By this time, Singapore had pulled most of its direct flights to and from China on hold, except for very scarcely once or twice a week to Beijing & Shanghai. All flights to other cities have been stopped concerned with the Coronavirus outbreak, or most commonly referred to, in its most discriminatory form, as the WuHan Virus. But they still kept flights from/to other neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, etc., who also reduced but still kept flights to other cities in China such as CGO (Zhengzhou International Airport in Henan Province, which is the nearest airport from Luoyang City, my hometown).

That was only 2 weeks from when I was supposed to start a new job with another Company in Sichuan province. Not knowing how the situation may unfold, I could very likely to lose this new job if in the end I could not get back to China. Thankfully my ex-boss was understanding and supportive enough to release me from my notice period so I decided to get on a plane as fast as I physically could.

Photo: Singapore fog

Photo: Empty Changi airport, Singapore

Photo: Mask and hand disinfectant

Being a chill-out guy as I am, of course I didn’t partake the crazy island-wide hoarding of surgical masks and hand sanitiser when almost everybody was doing it. So by the time I decided to get some in case I may need to bring my return date forward, yes you got it right. It was completely sold out. Masks back then were the new gold. Actually, I took it back. You could still buy gold as long as you have money, you cannot buy masks even if you have money. This was how bad the situation was.

Thankfully my friends were kind and generous (they may regret being so couple of weeks later…) so my farewell gift bag was full of surgical masks and sanitiser and at that very moment I knew, I have lived a life. Judge me all you want, this was really how I felt.

Armed with the love from all my friends, I embarked on my journey back to China, when people inside the country was dying (literally) to get out.

When I arrived at the airport, I went to the airline counter to check in my luggage and get my boarding pass. I flashed my passport and said I am flying to CGO. The girl at the counter took a gasp and looked at me as if I was the coronavirus in person. I could see in a split of a second she also realized that her reaction wasn’t cool and if I were really the virus personified, she would have been helpless anyway. So she quickly pulled herself together and said to me with a very polite but firm tone:

“Sir, if you go, you can’t come back.”
“Sir, I need to inform you again, we have stopped all our direct flights from Singapore to China. Even if you transit through Kuala Lumpur, but once you are into China, you will not be allowed to return to Singapore.”
“I am aware, and I’m not coming back any time soon. It’s fine. Can you please process my booking please?”
“Sir, it is not our airlines, it is the Customs that…”
“Yes I get it, I am not coming back in the near future, it is ok, please.”
“One moment Sir…”
“Thank you. Appreciated!”

I lost count how many times I have been to Changi airport in the past 5 years since my wife and I had relocated here, never have I ever seen it like this… This is one of the busiest and most bustling airports in the world you must know with almost 100million passing through it every year. But on that day, it looked like a ghost town.

The whole 10 minutes’ walk from the customs entrance to the boarding gate felt so different than any time I flew. There is no long queue at Starbucks, no bustling noise along with the shops and no crowds interlacing at the intersections. In fact, the background noise was so low that every time the airport plays the announcement, it sounded as if I was in a war zone.

It must have been due to the fact that I was brave enough to be going back to China at its worst possible period, the airlines decided to show their admiration and upgraded me to its business class. Greeted by the air hostess, sat down by the window, for a second, I thought it was my very own chartered flight as it was almost empty.

Buckled up, engine roaring, the plane pulled out into its runway, looked out through the window, the night is still young, and I am finally on my way home, back to the country in its darkest days. 

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