Relief for Singaporean after family returns from Wuhan

Mr David Cher on a video call with his wife Hu Lamei, 36, and eightmonth- old daughter Zi Qi while in quarantine at Aloha Changi resort. He also spoke to his two-year-old son Shi Jie (right), via video call.
Mr David Cher on a video call with his wife Hu Lamei, 36, and eightmonth- old daughter Zi Qi while in quarantine at Aloha Changi resort. He also spoke to his two-year-old son Shi Jie (right), via video call. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF DAVID CHER

It is news that will make even an "Ah Beng" cry.

Business development manager David Cher, who sees himself as a "tough guy", made no bones about being crushed - and having cried - when his Chinese national wife was not allowed to leave with him last month on Singapore's evacuation flight out of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

The 40-year-old told The Straits Times in a phone interview on Monday: "When I heard the news, I cried. I mean, it's my family. So many thoughts came rushing into my head. I panicked.

"I even told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) staff that I would die here (in Wuhan) with her."

Eventually, he calmed himself and made the tough decision to return home because of his work, and was one of 92 Singaporeans on the specially arranged Scoot flight on Jan 30. His two-year-old son and eight-month-old daughter stayed behind in Wuhan too as there would have been no one to care for them in Singapore.

Now, after a painful wait, the family are all in the same country. His wife and children landed here on Sunday after taking Singapore's second evacuation flight, which brought home 174 people.

But they will have to wait about a fortnight to be reunited.

Mr Cher is on the stipulated 14-day quarantine at Aloha Changi resort till today, while his family will stay at Heritage chalet in Changi until Feb 23.

Still, he is far more sanguine than when he arrived at the quarantine facility. "The first few days I was very panicky. I even quarrelled with some of the quarantine officers," he said.

Explaining his agitated state of mind, he said he had not packed clothes or toiletries with him when he went to stay with relatives in China as he had left some in their home on a previous trip. When the Scoot plane landed in Singapore, he was taken directly to the quarantine facility. "I had nothing with me - no shower foam, no slippers, no (clean) clothes."

Life in quarantine is no walk in the park, he said.

He is confined to his room, not allowed to open the balcony windows or to smoke, and has to take his temperature and report it three times a day. Meals are delivered thrice a day and there is no choice.

The restrictions, combined with the stress and uncertainty from being separated from his family, were a major strain initially. "But I told myself, 'You're the master of your destiny. You've to overcome it yourself. If you don't, that's it,'" he said.

It took him three days to calm down and settle in. What proved helpful were the supplies, including clothes and toiletries, that a friend delivered to the chalet and which were passed to him by the staff.

He made video calls to his family daily, sometimes up to about 10 times a day. Also, he would "pester" the MFA daily to send a second evacuation flight. Last Friday, the ministry called him to give him the good news. "I called my family straightaway. I was very happy."

He has asked his friends to get diapers, milk powder, fruits, biscuits and tidbits and to deliver them to his family at Heritage chalet.

He said he feels relieved now that his family is back in Singapore. "I told them - if, touch wood, anything happens, if anyone gets infected, the Singapore Government will really take care of you. At least, we have enough support here."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'Relief for Singaporean after family returns from Wuhan'. Print Edition | Subscribe