Coronavirus cuts short Allawah family's China holiday

Troy Tam, wife Xiaowei and son Li cut short their trip to China because of the coronavirus. Picture: John Veage
Troy Tam, wife Xiaowei and son Li cut short their trip to China because of the coronavirus. Picture: John Veage

A family holiday to China for Allawah's Tam family turned into an emergency dash home to escape the coronavirus threat.

Once safely home, they went into a two-week self-imposed isolation as a service to their local community.

Troy Tam, wife Xiaowei and son Li, aged two, travelled to China and on January 20 for a family reunion and celebrate the Luna New Year.

"It was the first time Li had seen his grandparents," Mr Tam said.

But they soon realised that these Lunar New Year celebrations would be different.

The Tams were visiting family in Jiangxi province, about 440kms from Wuhan.

"During the preparations for Luna New Year including shopping and decorating the house, it became evident on social media that more people were talking about the coronavirus," Mr Tam said.

"Before we left Sydney people were talking about it in chatrooms but they didn't say how bad it was.

"But in China the news kept coming that more people were being diagnosed."

On the first day of the Lunar New Year they noticed people had started wearing masks.

On the second day of Lunar New Year Mrs Tam's sister, Xiaofeng, suddenly returned to her home in Shenzhen because she had heard the city was going to be closed.

Mr Tam said that there is a structured visiting pattern for Lunar New Year festivities with people visiting immediate family on the first day.

"It's a very cultural thing with family having breakfast and then people coming to visit you," he said.

"But people weren't visiting. We went to the community centre and were told that everyone was concerned about spreading the coronavirus.

"There was even a wedding that had been cancelled because of the coronavirus.

"We were monitoring the Smart Traveller website and it was warning to stay away from Wuhan but gave the green go for all other parts of China.

"We had planned to take the train to Shanghai and stay with a cousin but he said he was going into self-isolation. He lives in the French Concession area of Shanghai and said that someone in his complex had a positive reading to the virus.

"He said all tourist activity had been shut down in the city including visits to the zoo.

"We thought because it is such a major tourist city that it was not wise to go there."

Although they were not in the affected area, the Tams realised that they may not be able to leave China.

Mr Tam was sitting in the garden when community workers came and took his temperature.

Authorities had already put a road block up at the village monitoring people going in and out by taking their temperature to check for the virus..

"People needed special permission to get out on the highway," Mrs Tam said.

"There was a feeling of panic. Food was running out," she said.

Cabbages which normally sell for six RMB were selling for 30 RMB.

"There was immediate inflation and this was in a rural area where food is readily available," Mr Tam said.

"Everything became a priority to get a safe passage out," Mr Tam said.

"We thought that we could either leave before everyone else started travelling home after celebrating Lunar New Year or we would stay and wait it out in China for six weeks or perhaps a couple of months.

"We decided to go home on January 26.

"We rearranged our flight. Originally we were going to fly from Shanghai but Qantas was very understanding and arranged for us to fly from Hong Kong to Sydney.

"We decided to wear face masks on the whole flight and got off the plane with our masks on.

"We arrived back the day before the Federal Government advised that people travelling from China should go into isolation. So we did it ourselves. It was a conscious decision. It never felt forced. We didn't have to do it. We wanted to do it.

"We were aware we couldn't send Li to child care and my wife works in health care and so couldn't go to work.

"We decided to go into self-isolation. My sister, Becky bought us two weeks worth of shopping.

"We were very resourceful with the activities we had to do with our son. When the weather permitted we drove to the Royal National Park and walked along the beach when no-one else was around.

"We stayed at home and read books, painted and enjoyed family time.

"We never saw it as a negative. It gave us peace of mind and made us feel comfortable about our civic responsibility."