Wuhan's unseen heroes

Coronavirus: Volunteer drives doctors, nurses to hospital

(Left) Mr Zhang Jie and his two workers have been taking medics to and from hospitals in Wuhan in his company cars. (Right) Mr Zhang with his son, then 10 years old, in a picture taken last year. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF ZHANG JIE

When the authorities locked down the city of Wuhan on Jan 23, Mr Zhang Jie was visiting his aunts in another county more than 100km away.

They insisted he stay with them, but Mr Zhang, 41, who runs a conference-organising business, made the two-hour drive back to Wuhan that night; he had two employees he felt responsible for.

By then, all public transport in the city had been suspended. The next day, taxis also stopped running. How would doctors and nurses get to the hospitals and home as more people fall ill, he thought to himself.

When his niece forwarded a message appealing for volunteers, he asked his two employees if they were willing to put themselves at risk of falling sick - by ferrying medical workers in his company's two cars - and they said "yes".

Since then, the three of them have been taking turns driving over 100 doctors and nurses primarily to Zhongnan Hospital, where medical workers have already been found with infection.

Mr Zhang's day starts at 5am and does not end till 11pm. Apart from wearing a mask, he also disinfects his car before his passengers get in, and immediately after they alight.

Asked if he was worried about contracting the virus, he says: "Of course, I worry. But if you worry too much, then you can't be a volunteer."

When a nurse rang him, crying, and asked if he could take her and six of her family members to the hospital to test for suspected infection, he did not think twice. The family turned out fine, and none of the passengers he has ferried so far has contracted the disease.

Mr Zhang puts his courage down to having survived lymphoma in 2014.

"After that episode, I now feel most things are no big deal. You achieve nothing by being scared."

Petrol is costing him nearly 1,000 yuan (S$200) every two days, while he continues to pay his two employees their wages.

"Some of my passengers give us red packets but we don't take them," says Mr Zhang, who has an 11-year-old son studying in his home town of Jingzhou, about 220km from Wuhan, where he has worked for nearly two years.

Grateful doctors and nurses sometimes make them breakfast or leave groceries in their car.

A volunteer group chat on WeChat has about 500 members now and Mr Zhang sometimes calls on them to help him out at Zhongnan Hospital when demand surges.

Once, a volunteer whom he had never met but had communicated with on the chat, came to the hospital to give him a hand.

"We found each other, stopped our cars at a distance, wound down our windows and smiled at each other through our face masks," he said. "This is our special way of saying 'hello' to each other."

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