Coronavirus: From celebration to isolation for Singapore ex-national swimmer Tao Li, a Wuhan native

Former national swimmer Tao Li (top right) with her cousin and grandparents while celebrating Chinese New Year in Wuhan.
Former national swimmer Tao Li (top right) with her cousin and grandparents while celebrating Chinese New Year in Wuhan. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TAO LI

SINGAPORE - It was supposed to be a joyous occasion as former national swimmer Tao Li went with her mother to her native Wuhan on Jan 22 to celebrate Chinese New Year with her father and grandparents.

But little did she know that she would be caught in a lockdown that was imposed to prevent a coronavirus epidemic from spreading.

Wuhan is the epicentre of the disease that has infected over 60,000 people and killed more than 1,300 worldwide.

Tao, a two-time Asian Games champion who finished fifth in the 100m butterfly final at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, told The Straits Times on Friday (Feb 14): "I arrived on Jan 22, and I was still asleep the next morning when my family members started to talk about the lockdown that would start from 10am.

"We had never experienced such a thing that all public transport, the airport, metro and railway were all suspended.

"Some were telling me to hurry and leave for another city to return to Singapore, but I thought that the lockdown would last for a few days and I could still go back as scheduled on Jan 27. I didn't know it was an indefinite lockdown that has still not been lifted.

"There was some confusion in the first few days, and naturally panic as the death toll increased. But after people got used to the lockdown, it was okay, and the supermarket was well-stocked. While volunteers delivered necessities to our doorstep, one family member from each household is also allowed to go out and buy groceries, but it has to be the same person."

After asking the Singapore embassy for options, she was told that a Scoot flight has been arranged for Singaporeans who were not infected or showing any symptoms to return home on Jan 30. Meanwhile, Chinese nationals like her mother, Ms Li Yan, had to remain in Wuhan.

Upon arrival with 91 other Singaporeans, Tao was quarantined in a chalet in Jalan Loyang Besar for 14 days, which ended on Thursday (Feb 13). During that period, she underwent two nucleic acid tests to make sure she was not infected.

 
 

"Of course, I was fearful that I was infected, but thankfully my family and I are healthy," said the 30-year-old, who runs the Tao Li Swimming Club, which has more than 200 students. "It was pretty normal while being quarantined. We could also order food and I had my laptop, iPhone and iPad, so I was still able to work."

Looking at the positives despite having to be cooped up in China and Singapore, Tao was grateful for the opportunity to spend quality time with her family in Wuhan, and have some alone time here.

She said: "My grandmother is already 90, so I just want to spend as much time as I can with her. In Singapore, I usually don't have time to stop and think too much, but in those 14 days of enforced break, I could think about life.

 
 

"It is sad that people in Wuhan are getting a bad reputation because not everyone there eats wildlife. There are also many noble people there who are making big sacrifices to fight the virus in the front line too. My aunt, who is a doctor, is one of them.

"It is also sad that there are many who have died and their family members can't be with them or even plan for their final rites as they cannot have access to the bodies.

"I am reminded to cherish my loved ones because life is unpredictable and such a thing can happen anywhere and to anyone."