It was already midnight, yet 30-year-old Sunny Thananusakdi and his family hadn’t even entered the departure hall at the Wuhan Tianhe International Airport. They were bound to board the second specially-arranged flight evacuating Singaporeans and their families from the epicentre of the highly-infectious coronavirus outbreak. Scoot TR5121 eventually arrived in Singapore on Feb 9 around 8:30am, after a nearly four-hour delay.
Thananusakdi, who works in interior design, was among the 174 folks flown home, along with his wife and young son. He recalls the journey home vividly, though exact dates and hours are a little marred. It’s probably what being in quarantine does to you.
Following the touchdown on Sunday morning, Thananusakdi and his fellow passengers were escorted to an enclosed boarding gate, to be briefed on instructions regarding the completion of the evacuation procedure and their quarantine fulfilments. With toasts, milo and luggages in hand, Thananusakdi, as well as his wife and son climbed into a charter bus, and was led to Heritage Chalet at Pasir Ris.
“In total, my family and I have been quarantined for nearly a month,” Thananusakdi remarks. Originally an annual Chinese New Year trip to visit his parents-in-law in Hubei, the fun family affair quickly turned sour, due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
But despite the rocky start to the year, happy-go-lucky Thananusakdi remains sanguine. And to better understand his homecoming, SG Magazine spoke to the Thai-born Singaporean over the phone, while he was still under quarantine. Below details his experience.
The view from Thananusakdi’s room at Heritage Chalet
How did you find yourself at the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak?
My wife’s family resides in Gong’an, within the Hubei province. Almost every year since we’ve gotten married, we would head to Hubei during Chinese New Year to visit her relatives. In order to get to Gong’an, we would have to travel to Wuhan, and take a 3-hour drive to the county. This year, my wife, son and I left for China mid-January, with the intention of spending CNY there, before my wife and I would leave for my company retreat to Japan come end-January. We would then return to China and meet our relatives in Wuhan; pick up my son, and head home.
When were your plans disrupted?
We were already in Gong’an when the lockdowns began. Everything was as per normal during the first couple of days into our trip. But soon enough, new measures were being introduced daily. First, the expressways were closed, then we were not permitted to drive, and not long after, we were advised not to leave our homes.
How did you get updated about the new measures?
Announcements were broadcasted on the streets of Hubei. But my parents-in-law were mostly updating us though news they received via WeChat.
Tell us how you and your family spent the days under quarantine.
Our days were spent very similarly once we were not allowed to leave our homes. First, the whole family would wake up and have breakfast. Then we’d spent the rest of the day lounging around, watching TV and checking our phones. Of course, my wife and I were taking care of our son and playing with him too.
When did you realise things were getting serious, out-of-hand, even?
Hard to say. There wasn’t an exact moment because there were new rules and regulations everyday. Things had to be dealt with one at a time. We were initially hopeful, trying to find plans to head to Japan. But once the lockdown was fully implemented, we knew that was no longer possible. It was then when we began contacting the Singapore embassy in China.
And how did that feel?
No choice lor, even if we wanted to be upset, it wouldn’t help the situation.
Can you elaborate on your journey home?
We were actually offered seats on the first evacuation flight home, but we decided to wait a little, because of the possibility of heading to Japan. Plus I had my son with me, and my wife and I were concerned about the flight safety. At that point it was better to calmly wait and evaluate the situation, instead of making a rash decision to flee home.
A week before Feb 9, the call for a second flight to Singapore came, and we agreed to pay $500 per adult and $55, if I remember correctly, for our son, that confirmed our seats onboard Scoot TR5121.
We were also placed in a WeChat group that offered information about the flights, permits and more. It was important to get all the right permits ready, as it grants individuals access to travel around and out of the country. Over WeChat, we received a form that we needed to fill up before we could leave China. We also had to be given clearance for travel by a hospital.
And what was the situation in the airport when you arrived for your flight?
The departure hall was the most crowded I’d ever seen. Eventually our flight was delayed; three different countries including Singapore were evacuating their citizens from Hubei, which caused long, snaking queues. I was the last to head in, and last to board the flight.
What was the atmosphere in the airplane?
I think everyone was tired and just wanted to head home. It was more frustration than frenzy, if anything.
Did people don ridiculous gears and outfits as pictured in some photographs circulated?
No la, everyone mostly just wore masks. There were at most one or two who were wearing protective gear. In fact, even in Gong’an people wore masks but not those makeshift hazmat suits. I did see the flight attendants being disinfected while I was disembarking.
Were you brought to Heritage Chalet at Pasir Ris upon arrival?
Yes. We were provided breakfast, before being re-grouped and brought to various quarantine quarters.
What’s life like in your designated quarantine quarters?
His quarantine living quarters
It’s very quiet and dull if you’re completely alone, as you’re not allowed to leave your room, other than to retrieve meals from the first floor, and walk out to the balcony. When you leave your room, wearing a mask is a must.
For food, we get Macs for breakfast sometimes, or else it’s just bento sets. Our relatives and friends are allowed to help bring us extra food, clothing and more, as long as they pass the security checks. My parents brought my son additional toys, while my friends brought me my laptop so I could do work.
Phones provided to those in quarantine. Alerts such as meal collections are instructed by calls via these devices.
I’m still doing okay because my family is with me. My wife and kid are roomed just beside me, and I’m allowed to head over during the day, to help look after my son. His meals, milk powder and diapers are all provided too.
We have to be tested for the coronavirus twice during our quarantine. It was a swab test, whereby the doctor retrieved a sample from our nose. My son was very fearful of the test, as the swab stings. He said “no no” and “bye bye” several times as soon as he saw the healthcare workers.
What kind of messages did you receive from friends and relatives when you were being quarantined?
My friends and colleagues have been disturbing and teasing me for being quarantined (laughs). They’re pretty chill. My parents mostly worry for my son, and hope he’s doing well, which he is.
What are you looking forward to doing most when you have finally fulfilled your quarantine?
Hmm, having a nice meal. And definitely getting a haircut too. I’ve been quarantined for nearly a month, and I haven’t had the opportunity to cut my hair or even do any simple grooming.
If there’s one word you could use to describe this entire experience, what would it be?
(Laughs) Like that ask me I don’t know leh. Just no choice lor, take everyday as it is and go with the flow.
Sunny Thananusakdi and his family have been discharged from their quarantine at Heritage Chalet on Feb 23, Sunday, noon. In-text images courtesy of the interviewee.