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A deserted Asian supermarket in London. PIC BY ZAHARAH OTHMAN
A deserted Asian supermarket in London. PIC BY ZAHARAH OTHMAN

IT was just what we feared. A British daily reported that Heathrow Airport was in a lockdown on Friday when a Malaysian family of 8 were detained in a flight arriving from Malaysia under suspicion of having symptoms of Covid-19.

Hours later, the news was confirmed to be false.

Only one Malaysian passenger, said another newspaper, was sectioned off by hazmat-suited officials and was allowed to leave when he was cleared by Public Health England.

How easily we panicked and justifiably so.

In fact, friends and relatives who had planned their holidays in London are now worried if this would happen to them.

The United Kingdom has indeed been on high alert after more cases had been confirmed in the capital.

Earlier this week, a British national dubbed a “super spreader” was said to have unwittingly infected people during his journey back from a conference in Singapore.

On Friday, a number of British citizens evacuated from China on the British government’s specially-chartered flight were allowed to go home after being in quarantine for 14 days.

It must have been a great relief to be able to breathe fresh air again after being cooped up in makeshifts isolation units that are fast-growing in the UK.

Yesterday, Maz Marakom Davenport was able to hug her son, Faiz, for the first time since he returned home from Suzhou, 500 miles from Wuhan.

Faiz was a student at the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, where he had been learning the Chinese language and culture for the past few months.

“I was enjoying the course but I received an email from my university to take the earliest flight back to the UK,” said Faiz.

He found a ticket on the Turkish Airlines only to find that the airline, like so many others, had cancelled all flights to China.

He then had to fork out more money to but a new ticket on Etihad Airways.

“I have yet to be able to hug him,” said his mother Maz, who, with her husband Sean, and Faiz, had been in self-isolation since fetching Faiz at the airport.

A note written by a Malaysian woman that had gone viral on social media.
A note written by a Malaysian woman that had gone viral on social media.

Faiz, thankfully, had not contracted the disease but they had decided that it was wise to heed the Public Health regulations and go into self-isolation.

The youngest child had to be dispatched to the grandparents while another was staying put at University in Birmingham.

“His friends came to leave food for him,” said Maz.

The action taken by the family could be seen as a bit too far, seeing that Faiz was not even infected.

But considering that the symptoms might not even surface until after 24 days, one cannot be too careful especially when people know that you are just back from China.

Supermarkets specialising in Chinese and Asian products, Chinatown and even Bicester Village, the place that was once full of visitors from the East, are said to be almost like ghost towns.

I went to our Asian supermarket just a few days after the first outbreak of the deadly virus was reported, and the place was deserted.

When I usually had to queue behind trolley-loads of noodles and beansprouts, only one aisle was opened that day as there were just handful of customers.

London’s Chinatown, although not quite deserted, wasn’t exactly bustling with activity.

Malaysia is one of several countries like Singapore and Thailand that have been flagged as a “health-risk” country to travel to.

With the Easter break coming soon, parents said they have received letters from schools advising them not to take their children back to Malaysia.

Under such circumstances, it is only a matter of time before racism rears its ugly head.

It reminds me of cases when buses were cleared when a bearded Muslim man in a robe came on board. The situation now in some places is not unlike that.

A friend reported that people actually shunned her in public transport just because she had Asian features.

She reported this to an aunty who took matters into her own hands and pinned a handwritten note on her blouse, with a message, “I am Malaysian, I have never been to China for the last 12 years (sic) ! Please do not come close to me if you are not well. Thank you”.

Although the note had not been used outside her house, it went viral when her niece posted it on the social media.

Recently, my own son called an Uber after shopping at a Thai supermarket. On arrival, the Uber driver asked him whether he was from China.

In the latest reported case, a woman from Wuhan actually called an Uber driver when she suspected that she had the symptoms of the viral infection.

The driver, who had taken her to the hospital, was put into isolation together with several healthcare workers who had been in close contact with her.

News that gatherings, conferences, and celebrations had been put on hold or cancelled, are not surprising.

A week after the outbreak was reported, I had my first cancellation of a Chinese New Year event celebration.

In Bristol, where there was a food fair in conjunction with the celebration to welcome the year of the rat, people chose to stay away from it, while those who came donned face masks.

Recently, an international annual event which usually attracts thousands of visitors and participants from all over the world, proceeded but on a much quieter note.

The organisers distributed hand sanitisers at the door, but people still thought it was unwise to be in a closed place with people who had arrived from other parts of the world.

As the number of those infected keeps increasing and the list of countries affected grows longer, the outlook sure seems gloomy if not downright scary.

In the meanwhile, keep washing your hands and do not kiss and hug anybody.

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