Migrant worker who died of Covid-19 complications: Ashes returned to his family in China

He was one of 2 Chinese workers here to die of Covid-19 complications

Mr Gu Zhenfei with his wife, Ms Li Xiaojuan, in a picture taken in 2018. PHOTO: COURTESY OF GU FAMILY

For close to 20 years, Mr Gu Zhenfei had alternated between working as a construction worker in Singapore and in his home town in China's Jiangsu province.

But on Monday, he made his final trip home, as his bereaved family received his ashes.

Mr Gu, 51, was the first of two Chinese migrant workers to have died here of Covid-19-related complications.

He was confirmed to have the coronavirus on May 1, but was also diagnosed with lymphoma while warded in intensive care in hospital. His condition was complicated by multi-organ failure.

His family said Mr Gu had initially told them he was suffering from a fever when he had to be warded in late April.

Mr Gu's cousin, who gave his name as Ah Qian, said Mr Gu was not afraid of the virus, even after he tested positive for it.

"He said Singapore's medical treatments were really good, so he was not afraid at all," said Ah Qian, who is in his 40s and also works in Singapore.

However, Mr Gu's condition deteriorated and, for most of May, he remained unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator, said his family.

Speaking to The Straits Times over the phone from China, Mr Gu's widow said hospital workers would video-call her frequently, and she would speak to her unconscious husband and encourage him to keep fighting the illness.

An old photo of Mr Gu and his wife with their son Gu Chunlei, who is now 28 years old. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MR GU ZHENFEI'S FAMILY

He had been very healthy prior to this illness, said his widow, Ms Li Xiaojuan, 49.

"I kept telling him to keep fighting this, you've always been so healthy, you've never needed the doctor," said Ms Li.

But Mr Gu died on May 31, after more than a month in the hospital.

The family is still in a state of shock and disbelief, said Ms Li, adding that their 28-year-old son has not come to terms with it.

"He insists that his father is not dead and that he is still overseas working," she said.

Their son is in between jobs now, she added, saying that she was worried about their family's finances.

Mr Gu's parents have also taken badly to the news, and his mother has lost her appetite, said Ms Li.

After all, Mr Gu had been making plans just a few months ago to return home to visit the family for the tomb-sweeping festival, she said.

He was eventually kept from fulfilling his plans as the pandemic hit Singapore hard in April, and cases in the foreign worker dormitories had risen sharply.

Ms Li said her husband was a good man and an introvert.

"He was not very good at talking, but he was very good at working."

Ah Qian said Mr Gu had spent most of his time in Singapore at work or resting in his dormitory.

The two would occasionally meet on weekends for a beer and a bite in Chinatown.

"I came to Singapore first, and he joined me afterwards... He said since there's a brother here, the two of us can look after each other," said Ah Qian.

"I don't know how to face his parents when I go back now. We were supposed to take care of each other."

An informal fund-raising event by a group of Chinese nationals here, led by Singaporean Xiong Gang, has raised over $9,000 for Mr Gu's family and the family of Mr Wu Liyou, the second Chinese worker who died here from Covid-19 complications.

The Migrant Workers' Centre and Mr Gu's employer have said they are prepared to provide the necessary financial support to Mr Gu's family during this period.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2020, with the headline Migrant worker who died of Covid-19 complications: Ashes returned to his family in China. Subscribe