My life in ‘Camp Corona’: Teacher who was stranded in Wuhan tells of reality of life in quarantine

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Britons stranded in Wuhan arrived back in the UK on an evacuation flight a week ago. Ninety-four people are currently in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral – and will remain there for another week.

So what is life inside the unit – dubbed Camp Corona – really like? Here Ben Pinkerton, 23, a teacher from Chester who was working for the Education First language company in Wuhan, shares his diary of a life-changing seven-days.

Friday, January 31

D-Day! After eight anxious days confined to the apartment waiting to hear if we’d be evacuated, an email from the Foreign Office arrives, saying we have to get to the airport right away.

My emotions are mixed. I love life in Wuhan where I teach English and where my [Chinese] partner Odile is. She’s left Wuhan to celebrate Chinese New Year in another city and couldn’t return after lockdown was introduced.

I’ve been here a year and had planned to renew for a second year. But I know staying here is simply too dangerous. So many people have died and the virus continues to spread.

I wasn’t scared. Yes, I was in the epicentre but I knew I just had to get on with it. My friend Josh and I arrive at Wuhan airport just after 10pm.

It’s freezing and we – there are 70 or so Brits – are met by British officials.

Eventually, I’m cleared to go.

I feel so relieved. Then a piece of paper is put in front of me. It’s a waiver informing me that I agree to spend 14 days in quarantine. I board the plane. Like everyone else – including cabin crew – I’m masked up. I sleep the entire flight.

I wake and see rolling green-hills as we approach RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. A little cheer goes up.

We board a coach – there’s a medic all gowned up in the front. Then I saw the driver and thought ‘Geez, couldn’t you have got him one as well?’ It kind of defeated the whole object. We’re going to Arrowe Park. Nobody complains and I’m back in the North West where I grew up. Everyone is just relieved to be home.

Saturday, February 1

After the emotion of yesterday, the reality of two weeks in quarantine has hit. I’m looking forward to eating British food and having unrestricted access to the internet – something which wasn’t possible in China where it is censored.

My heart is with those back in Wuhan. It’s a weird atmosphere – everyone is walking around keeping themselves to themselves.

Mealtimes are a chance to make friends. Afterwards I chat with others but it’s hard talking with masks on. But nobody is taking the risk of removing them.

I hear a rumour that takeaways can be delivered. It’s the first bit of good news since we arrived.

Sunday, February 2

The second full day in quarantine and some people say they want to leave. I think it’s a foolish idea.

We know what we signed up for. It’s not going to be easy, but if 14 days is how long it takes to be sure we’re healthy, then I’m not arguing with that. I order a Pizza Hut delivery. The doctors say that new patients are arriving very late and they’ll be staying in a separate part of the unit.

Monday, February 3

I wake up to the news that someone who arrived last night has been put straight into isolation as he feels poorly.

It’s spooked a few people – they fear we’re all at risk. But I remain confident in the doctors. They are amazing – all of the staff are. They carry out daily checks on us to ensure we are OK physically and mentally. This afternoon I speak to my employers, Education First, who say I can work remotely during my time in here. This gives me a massive boost.

Tuesday, February 4

I finally get through to my friends in China. I have long conversations with them all. It’s good to hear that they are staying positive despite being in the danger zone.

Some ask for news of the coronavirus and I tell them what I’ve read online. I reassure them that the Chinese authorities seem to be doing all they can to keep them safe. Most are very worried.

After dinner I speak to my parents and grandparents, reassuring them the NHS is treating us well. The call makes me long for home.

Wednesday, February 5

My hopes of being able to work have been realised. I spend most of the morning teaching my Chinese students online.

Seeing their smiling faces boosts my mood. The students enjoy it too. They tell me how bored they are, cooped up and unable to leave their homes. I binge-watch Fry and Laurie to cheer me up. I’m missing my partner Odile back in China. Valentine’s Day is going to be a video call from quarantine. How romantic!

Doctors tell us the patient in isolation has been given the all clear. The sense of relief is palpable.

Thursday, February 6

Thank God for Status Quo! After a lie-in, I listen to Quo’s 1970s albums on repeat. I’m also tackling 12 Rules For Life by Jordan Peterson – a very enlightening read.

Friday, February 7

It’s now a week since we I got back to the UK.

Being in quarantine hasn’t been easy but the care is amazing.

I teach in the morning and then spend the afternoon updating all my friends in China through video calls.

They’re obviously depressed because China is in lockdown and I don’t want to sound like someone gloating because I managed to get out.

Thankfully, all of my friends are safe and well so far.

Another week to get through – but I’d rather be here than in Wuhan. I know that I’m one of the lucky ones. 

Around 150 Britons being flown back from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan on Sunday will be quarantined for 14 days in Milton Keynes, it has been revealed.

South Central Ambulance Service said that Kents Hill Park, a conference centre and hotel, will be used to house the returning citizens after they land at RAF Brize Norton – where they will remain in isolation for 14 days.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that the flight would be the final service chartered by the Foreign Office to bring UK nationals back from the Chinese city.

The ambulance service said the presence of the group in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, does not present a risk to local people.

‘The local site has been chosen because it offers appropriate accommodation and other facilities for those coming back from Wuhan while they stay in Milton Keynes,’ the ambulance service said.

‘It also allows their health to be regularly monitored and has the necessary medical facilities close at hand should they be required.’

The news comes as it is revealed the virus has killed at least 638 people and infected more than 31,520 globally. 

The Department of Health and Social Care said that 620 people in the UK have been tested for coronavirus as of 2pm Friday, with three cases confirmed.

It is understood that the third person in the UK to be diagnosed with coronavirus caught the illness in Singapore.

He is reported to be a middle-aged British man and is understood to be the first UK national to contract the disease.

The man is thought to have been diagnosed in Brighton and was transferred to St Thomas’ Hospital in London, where there is an infectious disease unit, on Thursday afternoon.

It comes after British tourist Alan Steele was hauled off a cruise liner and taken to hospital after testing positive for coronavirus on his honeymoon in Japan. 

His wife Wendy Marshall Steele, who married Alan Steele last month, said she did not know when she would next see her husband after he tested positive for the virus on board the Diamond Princess in Japan.

Writing on Facebook from the quarantined cruise liner in Yokohama Bay, she said she would not be able to care for him despite being a nurse.

‘They have just taken Alan away. I am in ribbons. He is healthy and not displaying any symptoms,’ she said. ‘I am bereft… if he ends up being ill I can’t look after him. NOT only as a wife… but as a nurse.

‘Apologies if this sounds over emotional but to have your husband taken away from you. Not sure how long it will be until I see him again.

‘In my working life my colleagues would say “balls of steel” but not today. Counting down the days until I can laugh about stupid things with my husband again.’

Mr Steele, from Wolverhampton, said he was not yet showing symptoms of the virus and hopes he may just be a ‘carrier’ but faces a lengthy quarantine in hospital on the mainland.

He becomes the second UK national known to have the virus, after a businessman who had recently flown back from Singapore tested positive in Brighton yesterday.

Mr Steele was one of 41 people who learned they had the virus after 171 remaining test results came back on Friday, trebling the ship’s total of virus patients from 20 to 61.

The newly diagnosed also include 21 Japanese nationals, as well as eight Americans, five Canadians, five Australians and an Argentine.

Officials have launched a hunt for anyone who spent more than 15 minutes with a businessman who became the third person in the UK to test positive for coronavirus – but officials have not told the public who he is.

Officials are desperately hunting for anyone who came into brief contact with him, even though his own family have not been quarantined, MailOnline understands.

The man, who returned from Singapore by plane last week, took himself to A&E at the Royal Sussex in Brighton on Sunday night after suffering from flu-like symptoms.

The businessman, who has still not been identified, visited five-star hotel The Grand Hyatt in Singapore in which three other Asian delegates caught the disease after attending the same conference.

It has been reported that the conference the man was attended by more than 100 international delegates.

It is believed the event was organised by a UK company called Servomex, which describes itself as a ‘provider of reliable, accurate and stable gas measurements’ and is based not far away from Brighton, in Crowborough.

But officials have repeatedly refused to give away any more details about the man, who is thought to be in his 40s or 50s, and they have also not released details of which flight he arrived on.

The Government has already been slammed numerous times for its ‘weak’ response to the crisis after it failed to ban travellers from China, despite 16 countries including the US, Australia, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia having done so. The UK was also slow in repatriating British ex-pats stuck in the epicentre of Wuhan. 

The British businessman was transferred to a specialist infections unit at Guy’s Hospital on Thursday night and will now remain quarantined for at least two weeks.

He had been staying at the The Grand Hyatt hotel as it held a business gathering for more than 100 internationals between January 20 and 22.

The conference, thought to have been held by Servomex – which was founded in the UK and has worldwide offices, is said to have included delegations from China, where the virus originated.

Malaysia, where at least 17 cases are confirmed, said on Tuesday an infected citizen – a 41-year-old man – had also attended the meeting.

His sister has since been infected, while Singapore said virus symptoms had surfaced in four of the firm’s local staff. ‘We are calling this the first Malaysian-transmitted local case,’ Malaysia’s Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said.

South Korea reported two confirmed cases of its citizens on Wednesday. The Koreans and the Malaysian shared a buffet meal during the conference, South Korean media said.

Of the Singapore attendees, four have also reported symptoms and been referred to its National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

A spokesman for the Grand Hyatt hotel, Gerald Kheng, said the hotel had been deep cleaned after it was first informed of the incident by Singapore’s health ministry on Tuesday.

Given the fact that the businessman arrived in the UK by plane and will have interacted with other passengers, the search for people who came into contact with him is likely to be more complex than for the Chinese pair.  

The latest case raises fears the virus is now circulating in higher numbers than previously thought outside of China. 

Downing Street issued updated travel advice on Friday night which simply warned Britons flying back from nine countries to phone NHS 111 if they feel slightly unwell.

It was revealed that MPs believe a China travel ban could be introduced within weeks because the coronavirus outbreak appears to be getting worse and the government will be forced to act.

A source who sits on the All Party Parliamentary China Group, set up to strengthen China-UK relations, said they would be surprised if the travel restriction was not imposed ‘in the next week or two’ amid calls for the government to step up its efforts to protect the UK against the killer disease.

If introduced a ban would likely apply to foreign nationals who have visited China in the last 14 days – something 16 countries including the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have already imposed. Even Saudi Arabia and Iraq have introduced the ban before Britain.

Virologist Professor Ian Jones, from the University of Reading, welcomed the move, saying it was a ‘simple’ and ‘proactive’ measure that could delay more cases on home soil.

And leading scientists – speaking at a hastily organised meeting by the respected Science Media Centre in London today – said travel restrictions could buy the UK valuable time to develop a vaccine.

The news follows backlash at the Government’s ‘weak’ response to the outbreak. Last night it issued ‘updated travel advice’ – which simply warned travellers from nine Asian countries ‘to phone NHS 111 and quarantine themselves’ if they feel ill. 

Meanwhile thousands of travellers from the disease-stricken country have been pouring into Britain every day without being properly tested for the infection, prompting calls for a similar blanket ban.

But the UK is still bound to EU immigration laws and obligated to fall in line with any decisions on travel restrictions made by the bloc until the end of the year, despite having technically left on January 31.

However the Government is said to be considering imposing the ban anyway, against the will of Brussels. But sources say it would be pointless if the EU does not follow suit as passengers could still enter Britain indirectly via another EU state due to freedom of movement rules.

‘What is the point in one of you banning flights if none of the others are going to do it?’ a senior government source told MailOnline. ‘Because you just get in by an indirect route.’

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said last night: ‘We can monitor flights from China landing back in the UK but we can’t monitor those landing from China in the rest of Europe. EU freedom of movement does make us more vulnerable.’

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