British Columbia

Bored and abandoned: Canadians trapped in Wuhan say lockdown is a balance of tedium and anxiety

Canadians trapped in Wuhan, China, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak say they're safe but bored and feeling abandoned by their consular officials.

'Now I know what it feels like to be a dog. To be locked at home for the whole day,' Delta woman says

Wayne Tremblay in Wuhan, China on Jan. 29, 2020. (Wayne Tremblay)

Canadians trapped in Wuhan, China, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak say they're safe but feeling abandoned by their consular officials.

Wayne Tremblay is one of 168 Canadians stuck in Wuhan.

He says the streets are quiet, but there are no barricades. Stores are open and nobody is in a panic, but they are anxious, bored and frustrated that American and British governments are working hard to get people out, while Canada is not offering much help.

There was nothing out of the ordinary when the Nanaimo, B.C., man headed to Wuhan Jan. 19, but that had all changed just two days later.

Cabin fever

By Jan. 21, he said, authorities began requiring masks and were reporting the virus was spreading human to human.

People shop in Wuhan, China on Jan. 29, while the city remains under strict travel restrictions due to a coronavirus outbreak. (Wayne Tremblay)

"It was pretty surprising — historically this has never really been done before," said the 37-year-old branch manager of an insurance adjuster office on Vancouver Island.

Now Tremblay and his spouse are trapped in Wuhan. He said stores are well-stocked and he's seen no panic.

"It's fine other than cabin fever because you are stuck inside a house all day. Every day," he said.

Wayne Tremblay describes his predicament to CBC's Heather Hiscox:

Canadian man stuck in Wuhan may have to head home without his wife

3 years ago
Duration 8:33
A Canadian man trapped in Wuhan due to the coronavirus outbreak says he may have to travel home alone should a flight be provided for Canadian citizens. His wife would not be able to leave China because the country does not recognize her dual citizenship.

Tremblay said that he is disappointed with the response he got from Canada's 24-hour consular line.

Tremblay said Canadian authorities made it clear that they are not trying to get citizens out on planes. He said that made him feel uneasy.

"Abandoned. Pretty bluntly, just abandoned," said Tremblay.

His flight home Feb. 2 is now cancelled.

"Everyone is under the assumption that if other countries [are helping citizens get home] that Canada would be doing that — but they are not."

The streets of Wuhan are quiet but not abandoned. (Li Mei)

Unverified videos circulating on social media show overcrowded hospitals and food shortages.

"That's not something we are experiencing," he said.

In China, he says, his wife and friends share inspiring social media videos showing neighbours sharing wine between buildings using their clothes lines — or singing songs to pass the time.

"Everyone is coping well," he said.

Stricter than SARS controls

The lockdown is unprecedented —- and much more strict than ever experienced even by people from Wuhan who lived through the SARS outbreak years ago.

"My family survived SARS," said Mei Jie Han, who moved from Wuhan to Vancouver. He was 15 when SARS hit in 2003.

He remembers hanging out with his friends because schools were shut.

"But it wasn't like this. You could still travel. It wasn't scary," said Han, who is in B.C.

He said his parents, Li Mei and Jian Gang Han, feel trapped in their Wuhan home in the district of Jiang-An.

Li Mei, 57, of Delta, B.C., wears a mask in Wuhan. (Li Mei)

Han's parents travelled from Delta to Wuhan on Jan. 10. They were expected to return by Feb. 8.

Han's mother, 57, helps care for his four-year-old daughter, and he had been planning to travel to Florida for business.

Han says his parents are anxious.

"She can't go out anywhere. She says now I know what it feels like to be a dog. To be locked at home for the whole day," he said. Han says his parents are struggling to find fresh food — and face masks.

"You either stay home and starve or you risk it and go out to get food," he said.

When trucks arrive at the stores, he says, people buy items before they are shelved. But he said the biggest issue is boredom — and the lack of direction from Canada.

The instructions are to stay home and stay safe and follow instructions from Chinese officials, he said.

"Physically they are OK. They don't have any symptoms," said Han, who is eager to get his family home and some normalcy back.

People wearing face masks walk down a deserted street in Wuhan, China, on Tuesday. (Arek Rataj/The Associated Press)


Yvette Brend

CBC journalist

Yvette Brend works in Vancouver on all CBC platforms. Her investigative work has spanned floods, fires, cryptocurrency deaths, police shootings and infection control in hospitals. “My husband came home a stranger,” an intimate look at PTSD, won CBC's first Jack Webster City Mike Award (2017). Got a tip?