Coronavirus: Wuhan evacuees describe life in Whangaparaoa quarantine

Wuhan evacuee Lily Gao with daughter Elysse, 2, in their camper van.
Wuhan evacuee Lily Gao with daughter Elysse, 2, in their camper van. Photo credit: RNZ

By Liu Chen of RNZ

It's the sixth day that people evacuated from Wuhan staying in quarantine at a Defence Force training base in Whangaparāoa, north of Auckland.

Last Wednesday, a government-chartered flight brought 98 New Zealand citizens and permanent residents and 69 foreign nationals from the Chinese city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak.

As of Monday, there had been 40,235 confirmed cases reported in China and 909 deaths, as well as 319 cases in 24 other countries, including one death. There are no cases of suspected or confirmed novel coronavirus in New Zealand, the Director General of Health says.

People at the base said things were more settled than the first couple of days and they're starting to adapt to the new environment, with plenty of food and daily necessities.

For seven-year-old Ethan, the greatest part of quarantine is that he can play all day and doesn't have to worry about school and homework.

There were books, puzzles, and toys that he could take to the campervan where he and his mum stay. One of his favourite spots was the sand pit.

"It was a little dry so I put some water, but I guess I put too much water because now it's so sticky," he said.

Ethan's mother Fenny Qiu, an accountant in Auckland, said her company had been supportive and she was working remotely.

Meal time at Whangaparāoa military base.
Meal time at Whangaparāoa military base. Photo credit: RNZ

They've been supplied with everything they need - shampoo, body wash, face wash, tooth paste, sunblock and antiperspirant, and electric fans to cool the campervan down, Qiu said.

She said there was a wide range of food they could choose from, including some special treats on the Lantern Festival which fell on Saturday.

"They supplied us with traditional Chinese food like dumplings and fried noodles and installed lanterns in the kitchen area as well.

"They had the golden coin chocolates in the red packets. I think that was quite thoughtful. You know, it makes everybody feels like it was the Chinese New Year."

Wuhan evacuee Fenny Qiu with her 7-year-old son Ethan.
Wuhan evacuee Fenny Qiu with her 7-year-old son Ethan. Photo credit: RNZ

Lily Gao said their daily life runs between the campervan, a dinning hall, a supplies room, the toilet and shower.

Although space was limited in the campervan, she's tried to keep busy with her two-year-old daughter Elysse.

"I tried to give her different toys, sometimes we read books together. We also take a walk around the safety fence. There are stairs, so we go upstairs and downstairs, upstairs and downstairs to kill time," she said.

Three months pregnant, Ms Gao has been looked after by the Red Cross staff.

"They invited a midwife to come and see me as well. The midwife provided some pregnancy information which is quite useful at this moment."

Ms Gao said she felt comfortable there, although her daughter constantly misses her father and friends.

Gao said she's confident they will be OK because the evacuees were being supportive to each other by communicating online. Plus, she felt safe there.

"They keep very high standard of hygiene. Every time before we enter each building, we have to sanitise our hands and we can't touch anything. For example if we need anything from the supplies room, the Red Cross staff will just get it for us," she said.

Gao said the staff would also limit the number of people in a certain room each time.

Another woman, who doesn't want to be named, said staff were very nice and helpful, but there were things can be improved on, including more regular disinfections of the public toilet and shower room. She was told by the Red Cross that it was twice a day at the moment.

"The only disadvantage of living in a campervan is that you have to use the public toilet and shower. My campervan also ran out of water for three days. It stank. I've only got the water back on Monday," she said.

"There's a high risk of infection in the public toilet and bathrooms. If anyone of us carried the virus, we could all be infected. That's very concerning."

People have been asked to stay in the campervan as much as possible, and talk to each other at arms length for no more than 15 minutes each time, with a mask on.

A specialist was on site visiting each campervan Monday afternoon, answering any questions people had.