Coronavirus: Two Indians on Their Arduous Journey Home From China
Velam was probably the last person to leave China amidst the coronavirus scare.
Velam was probably the last person to leave China amidst the coronavirus scare.(Photo: The Quint)

Coronavirus: Two Indians on Their Arduous Journey Home From China

“It was a little later that I realised that it was the last commercial flight to India from China. Because, the whole world was closing their doors to China. I definitely believe all the credit goes to God.”
Muthu, Velam’s Father
“I was desperate. I was caught in a fix in this fight to survive.”
Ram to The Quint

On 30 January 2020, 22-year-old M Velam returned home from China. She was the lone passenger in the economy section of the flight, from Tianjin to Singapore. She then took a connecting flight to Chennai.

Velam is pursuing her medical degree in China, which is currently reeling under the novel coronavirus epidemic.

Her father Muthu told The Quint how it was by God’s grace that she returned to India at the right time, given how China has come to a standstill because of the epidemic.

On 31 January, Ram* (name changed) along with 300 others were flown down by Air India from Wuhan. He is in his final year in medicine at Wuhan and is just months away from completing his degree. He is currently kept in isolation at a quarantine facility in Haryana’s Manesar, set up by the Indian Army.

Ram told The Quint how he was glad to be back home in India and is excited to see his family back in Pudukkottai in Tamil Nadu in four days.

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'Surprising That All Our Results Came as Negative'

On 24 January, Ram* had posted a video on Facebook raising alarm that the coronavirus scare was getting serious in Wuhan.

“I was staying outside campus and had to go to the university everyday, if I needed masks or food. But we were advised to not venture outdoors as the risk of contracting the virus was high. So, I was caught in a fix in this fight to survive.”
Ram* to The Quint.

In his video, he had appealed to the Indian government and the Tamil Nadu government to help all Indians stuck in Wuhan. The medical student told that he was glad that the embassy got in touch with him soon after.

The quarantine facility set up at Manesar, Haryana.
The quarantine facility set up at Manesar, Haryana.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

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‘I Can’t Move Away, Just Like Soldiers in a War’

Recounting the last few days, Velam’s father told The Quint that when the coronavirus scare had begun, her teacher had informed the class that they could choose to go home. She was the only student in her final year class to stay back. She was staying in Tianjin province, which is about 1000 kilometres from Wuhan.

“During mid-January, she was in isolation in her room as nobody else was in the campus, as all the final year students and even other batches had left. Except for a Pakistani, three Africans, one Nepali, there was no one in the hostel or campus.”
Muthu, Velam’s Father

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Almost all students have left Tianjin University to go to their hometowns because of the coronavirus scare.
Almost all students have left Tianjin University to go to their hometowns because of the coronavirus scare.
(Photo Courtesy: Tianjin University)
Velam had apparently said, “Don’t worry. I am being careful. Why should I move away from all this ? My field of study is medicine and this is a part of our vision and I have to deal with this. I can’t move away, just like soldiers in a war.”

But around 24 January, when all public services were suspended, her father quickly booked her a ticket to India. “We both have a protocol usually. She informs me whether she has left for the airport, if she has boarded, sends me a picture, and calls and updates,” her father told The Quint.

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Velam is a final year medical student studying at Tianjin University.
Velam is a final year medical student studying at Tianjin University.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

When Velam sent a picture of her in an empty flight, her father was worried but also wondered, “One way, it's good only that she is not coming home in a crowded flight, as she shouldn't catch anything.”

Once she landed in Singapore, Velam clarified that she was the only one in the economy class and that only a few people were sitting in the first class.

Velam is glad she is back home in Chennai.
Velam is glad she is back home in Chennai.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Velam’s father then realised that the flight was the last one out of China bound for India and he believes it is God’s plan that she returned home at the right time.

When The Quint spoke to airport authorities in Chennai, they confirmed that that was the last day when commercial flights left China. However, the Indian government has sent out two special flights to bring Indians back home from China even after that day.

Velam's father is glad his daughter is back home safe. “She told me how every time she had to step out, she had to wash her hands and that was just too many times a day. And the temperature was -10C or worse. I felt so bad as she didn't tell me she had so many difficulties and that she was alone in a 2000-acre campus,” he said.

She has undergone all the medical checks and has not been affected by the virus.

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‘Screening Needs to be More Stringent’

Today, Ram is living in the facility that consists of accommodation barracks for the students, administrative areas and medical facility areas where the students are monitored by a team of qualified doctors. The facility has been divided into sectors, each with a maximum capacity to accommodate 50 students.

Ram had pointed out that since over 300 people were in the same ward and were mingling in the lunch area and other spaces, he was afraid if anyone would pick the virus from another. However, he is glad all of their tests have returned negative.

The screening in Singapore, as narrated by Velam to her father, was extremely rigorous. However, the situation in India was starkly different.

Her father said that all the passengers from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Thailand and Singapore were made to stand in a single line.

“What if someone in the line was infected ? There has to be different immigration lines right? If you go to Italy or Paris, there will be 15-20 immigration counters, but here for 24 hours, there were only two people checking over 2,000 people.”
Muthu, Velam’s Father

Velam, too, stressed upon how there should be a better protocol and the process should be more stringent.

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