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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
As told to Katherine Purvis

'Some idiot moaned about breakfast': life in coronavirus quarantine

A person wearing a mask stands at a window of the accommodation block where British nationals flown back from China are being quarantined.
A person wearing a mask stands at a window of the accommodation block where British nationals flown back from China are being quarantined. Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Britons evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan have been kept in quarantine at Arrowe Park hospital in Wirral since arriving back in the UK last week. Here, one of them, a 32-year-old English teacher who has lived in Wuhan for the last four years, describes what it has been like living under quarantine.


This morning we were all given a note saying that someone on the second evacuation flight fell ill on the plane and was taken straight to hospital for tests. A couple of people asked if they were OK, but it didn’t cause a panic or anything. What did cause a commotion is that – even though food is being provided for us by the NHS and by local people – some people are still ordering takeaways (on the taxpayers’ money), and today they announced it would have to stop.

Up to this point, we’ve been given sandwiches and ready meals. It’s not great, but it’s free. But from tomorrow night, a catering company will be serving us food, so people can’t order any more takeaways. That caused a bit of a stir in the WeChat group we’re all part of – people weren’t very impressed.

A takeaway being delivered to the isolation accommodation at Arrowe Park hospital
A takeaway being delivered to the isolation accommodation at Arrowe Park hospital before the practice was stopped. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images

Today I’ve been revisiting the TV classics, watching Peep Show on my friend’s laptop, reading JG Ballard, listening to podcasts – and that is really about it.

I’ve basically lost one of my friends from Wuhan to his Fifa addiction. I think the people running this place were expecting loads of families, so they bought loads of games consoles, but there are only three or four children here. So suddenly there were all these brand new games consoles up for grabs – my friend snatched one up and I haven’t really seen him since.

What happens to these consoles when we get out of here? I don’t think anyone took a record of who’s got one and I really don’t think anyone will be counting them back in. I hope they get donated to children’s wards or something. It would be great if I could have a laptop of my own. If they gave me Football Manager – or something you can really get your teeth in to – the time would fly by.


I woke up and had a bath – I don’t have a bath in China so that’s quite a nice thing.

Some local people have donated books to us. I’m a big reader but these are rubbish. That sounds really ungrateful but, I mean, they’re terrible. There’s not even a Dan Brown. Say what you like about Dan Brown – that guy sold a lot of books – but these are by people you’ve never heard of.

I think the place is run by a private company on behalf of the NHS. You can email an order to them and two hours later whatever you asked for shows up. There’s a guy who has ordered bottles of wine, spirits and two crates of beer and he’s keeping them in his bedroom. Tonight he offered me some wine. I felt like I was going into a bar. He gave me a paper cup full of wine. I thought: “Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous!” He’s ordered all of it through this company and they’ve given it to him for free, no questions asked. It’s incredible.

I watched some daytime BBC soap operas today – Doctors, it was unbelievably stupid. Christ, that was the highlight of the day – that’s bleak!

There is a communal area but people don’t seem to be using it. I’m keeping mostly to myself. I sat with one of my colleagues from Wuhan while he watched some old episodes of Oz, but we’re all just doing the same thing.

This diary isn’t going to be very interesting, unless someone develops symptoms, which you never know. We’re right in the middle of the optimum time to start showing symptoms, assuming that you got infected on the flight – I think if anyone is infected that’s probably when it happened.

People are just counting the time, in any way they can.


I slept for most of the day today. I seem to be sleeping a lot since I got back here. It’s 7.35pm now and I’ll probably be asleep by 10pm. In my whole life it’s very unusual for me to go to sleep before midnight. Maybe it’s the jet lag but we’ve been back almost a week now.

I’ve got through most of JG Ballard’s short stories now – I’m reading about seven of those a day – and I’m watching loads of YouTube videos.

I’ve also been walking the stairs for exercise. You can go outside. There is a garden, but it’s a stone garden, there’s no grass or anything so I’ve been walking up the stairs to my bedroom on the seventh floor – it’s the only way I can see of getting any exercise. I don’t exercise normally – I’m notoriously lazy – but I do try to walk the hour home from my work in Wuhan if the weather’s not bad, just to say that I did.

The guy who ordered the booze has got even more now. He’s getting more alcohol delivered than any reasonable person could drink every day, and he doesn’t seem to drink it. I think he’s hoarding it to have a party when he gets back home or something. It’s weird.

My friend says he’s getting really good at Fifa now and I’m still keeping to myself. Everyone else seems to be fine, nobody seems to be ill, which is the main thing.


A bacon breakfast
No more bacon breakfast Photograph: Nigel Roddis/PA

Some idiot has complained about the breakfasts. Up until this morning, breakfast has been really good – a banging bacon and sausage sandwich. That’s the way to start the day, especially when you can’t get good bacon in China. But somebody complained about always having the same thing every day so when I went downstairs for breakfast, there were these dismal-looking Danish pastries, some rubbish-looking Dutch cheese and some salami. I thought: “What is this?” When you’re in quarantine, you don’t have much to look forward to. Meals are a big thing – and then the thing you look forward to has been replaced by a fairly poor effort at a continental breakfast. I don’t know if breakfast is worth going down for anymore.

We got a release date. As long as nobody’s showing symptoms, we can leave on Thursday morning. I feel good because I was expecting to leave the Saturday after, so that’s two days gained. As of Sunday, it will become very unlikely that anyone will start to show symptoms, so we should know by then if we’ll be leaving on Thursday.

There’s a huge gender imbalance here. There are far more men than women, and I don’t think there are many single ladies, so as far as I know there are no romances blossoming. But people are organising nightly dinners now. You can’t order takeaways anymore but you can still order food from supermarkets and people have started cooking in their rooms and inviting people to join. As of yet, I haven’t gone because I don’t particularly know them and I want to stay healthy. I’m not worried that I’ll get ill, but it increases the chance. I sit with people I know for half an hour a day to stop me from going insane, but I think it’s best to keep the number of people I interact with small.


Breakfast was back to normal this morning, fortunately. They’ve done a good compromise – they still had the rubbish, but they put the good stuff back as well. It gets the day off to a flying start.

I’m 12 hours closer to getting out of here. I have potentially less than a week left in quarantine but it could all go wrong. If somebody develops symptoms between now and Thursday, who knows what’s going to happen. We might all be back to square one – potentially back to 14 days in quarantine. Nobody’s actually said that but I do know that if anyone displays symptoms we’re not getting out of here on Thursday. And hopefully time goes quickly and they start giving us some ideas of how we get to where we’re going, because I only have Chinese money on me.

When I do get out, I’m going to see a friend who lives not too far away, and then I’ll travel down south to see my family – I last saw them a year ago in Hong Kong.

Going back to Wuhan has not been discussed. The rent is paid on my apartment for a few months, so there’s no rush, but I’ve left my degree and teaching certificates and other things behind, so I will have to go back to Wuhan at some point. I don’t think Wuhan will go back to normal for a while.

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