It was mid-January 2020, and news began filtering out from China of a type of Coronavirus, at first appearing similar to SARS, largely affecting the city of Wuhan and wider Hubei province of China.
With a planned return to the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian to celebrate Lunar New Year, we were closely monitoring the situation. At that stage, the north of the country had very few cases, with the outbreak largely contained to Hubei province. As we were travelling to a city that hadn’t registered any cases that we could see reports of, 1400 kilometers from the centre of the outbreak, we decided it was safe to travel. Certainly, if we were due to visit Wuhan or the wider Hubei province, we would have called our plans off.
Now back in London, my experience enables me to compare the early stages of the outbreak in northern China with the same in the UK.
On 23rd January, we flew to Dalian with KLM via Amsterdam and Beijing, arriving the following day. On the day we arrived – 24th January – China was reporting 550 cases, but the vast majority of these cases were in Hubei province. With so many cases, this is when Hubei authorites began to impose restrictions on residents leaving home, and travel to and from the province was also suspended. At a time reserved for important family gatherings, this was a huge deal – many people were forced to celebrate Lunar New Year without their family, some even by themselves.