HANGZHOU-Before boarding Scoot flight TR188 in Singapore on Jan. 24, the Lunar New Year’s Eve, tour guide Lao Guan knew the trip home would be anything but uneventful.

“Everyone in my group was showing signs of anxiety, not knowing what would happen next,” said Guan. “It was as if we were string puppets at the mercy of fate.”

Out of the 314 passengers onboard, over 100 were travelers who had originally planned to fly to the Chinese city of Wuhan. Many of them would head straight home just in time to celebrate the most important festival on the Chinese calendar. But due to a city-wide lockdown in the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the travelers found their home was beyond reach and opted to board flight TR188 heading for the city of Hangzhou.

Upon landing, these passengers had to undergo enhanced health screening at Hangzhou International Airport, before spending the first 14 days of the Lunar New Year under quarantine.


At the airport, 29-year-old Li Qian (a pseudonym) was found to have a fever, a common symptom of the virus infection, and was immediately sent to a nearby hospital for further tests.

Recalling that she had come down with diarrhea and vomiting in Singapore, she panicked and deeply regretted making the trip with her mother and 11-month-old son.

“I was in total despair and asked myself ‘Have I been infected with the virus?’” Li recalled days later. “In the ambulance, I even thought about preparing for the worst.”

Fortunately, her body temperature returned to normal after two hospital visits. At about 3 a.m. on Jan. 25, she was finally sent to the quarantine hotel near the airport.After a sleepless night, she told medics that the three of them would like to take another test for reassurance.

Over the following days, she waited anxiously for the result, unable to reply to a single message from her relatives and friends. But before long, she pulled herself together.

“In a completely new environment, I am the only one my mother and child can count on. I must be strong,” Li said. To their great relief, all three had tested negative for the virus.

But some of their fellow travelers weren’t so lucky. Altogether, seven passengers onboard flight TR188 from Wuhan were found to have been infected with the virus.


During the quarantine period, the travelers from Wuhan were strictly isolated in 30-square-meter hotel rooms, which were kept off-limits by four mask-wearing security guards. The authorities assigned a dozen medical personnel to monitor their condition, and six to seven hotel staff to help with their daily needs.

Every morning, Guan would play on his phone a song in southern Fujian dialect to hearten himself.

“One’s life can be compared to the waves on the sea. They have ups and downs,” the lyrics went. Guan found them to perfectly match his current mood.

To kill time and not sink into loneliness, Guan tried to keep himself busy with the only tool at his disposal: his cell-phone.

He called his wife to remind her about taking health precautions amid the epidemic, offered tips on entertainment for fellow travelers in a WeChat group, and kept posting a “quarantine diary” that covered anything within his limited sight: a decorative painting on the wall, a river outside the window, and a bag of incense near the bed.

At times, the well-read tour guide tried to seek inspiration from great figures in human history who had overcome suffering.

“During times of hardship, it was always human wisdom that prevailed in the end,” he wrote.

For the isolated travelers, the greatest source of comfort during the difficult time was always the kindness of their caretakers.

Every day, wearing goggles and full protective suits, the hotel staff delivered three meals to the rooms, and made every effort to meet the travelers’ daily needs.

In about another two weeks Li’s son will be one year old, and she is already excited about the birthday party. “I would like him to be a doctor when he grows up,” said Li.

In a WeChat post, she wrote, “Only on the day Wuhan is cured of the disease, shall the Lunar New Year truly come to the country.”