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Dublin: 0 °C Monday 30 March, 2020
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'I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy': Irish couple describe conditions in Chinese quarantine hotel

Lisa Belmour, from Clare, lives in Hangzhou with her husband.

Lisa Belmour and her husband Matt.
Lisa Belmour and her husband Matt.
Image: TheJournal.ie

AN IRISHWOMAN IN China has described how she and her husband have been quarantined into a hotel room which they cannot leave.

Lisa Belmour is from Newmarket-on-Fergus in Clare but has been living and working in China as an English language teacher for the last seven years. 

She and her husband Matt had left China for their annual Chinese New Year holiday on 18 January for a three-week trip to Cambodia. 

During this period, the virus began to spread across China and their return flight, scheduled for 7 February, was cancelled. Seeing the devastation the virus was causing throughout China, Belmour decided to return to Ireland. 

However, her Chinese residence visa was due to expire on 16 March. The couple decided then to return to their home in Hangzhou – a city 750km away from Wuhan, the city where the virus originated. 

Belmour said it was always the couple’s intention to arrive back into China and quarantine themselves for two weeks in their apartment. 

But once they arrived into the airport, it became clear quite quickly that this was not going to happen. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

On 21 March, China announced that people entering the country have to pay to be quarantined in state-appointed hotels.

This is because of the growing number of Covid-19 infections among people arriving back in the country from abroad.

After declaring they had “basically curbed” the spread of the disease within China, where the virus first emerged, authorities have now ordered international arrivals to Beijing to go into centralised quarantine for 14 days.

About 20,000 people — one-tenth of them foreigners — have entered China by plane daily since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, according to an immigration official.

New arrivals are now being transferred to an exhibition centre near Beijing’s main international airport for screening before heading to quarantine facilities.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Belmour said: “We made the decision to return to China due to our permits being up. We flew from Dublin to Frankfurt, then on to Bangkok and then into China. We had liaised with our school that we teach in, the community we live in and the local authorities.

“It was all planned that someone would collect us from the airport and we would be able to go to our apartment and be quarantined there. 

“We were in the airport for seven hours waiting for our names to be called. It was
freezing cold, we were wearing shorts and flip-flops, as the heating system had been turned off to avoid the spread of the virus. We eventually got on a freezing cold bus and arrived at our designated hotel at 7am, 10 hours after we had arrived. We showered and got into bed shivering from the cold.”

Now on day 10 of the quarantine, Belmour described how both she and her husband are “imprisoned” in the hotel room. They have had to make do with two bath towels they were given at the start of their ordeal. They have no cleaning supplies and their food is delivered three times a day on a plastic tray. 

“The hotel we are in is a couple of kilometres from our apartment. They tested us there for the virus. We also had to sign a form saying ‘you are hereby stating you have broken the laws of People’s Republic of China by quarantining together and may be assisting in the spread of the disease’. They wanted to put us in separate rooms.

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-24 at 13.18.02 The food the couple is served every day. Source: TheJournal.ie

They are afraid of their lives that we’re dirty diseased foreigners. They have nailed a chain to the door so it can’t open fully. We’re in a prison. It’s insane. We are being treated like animals. The door is opened four times a day – but only slightly because of the chain. They take our rubbish but that’s it.

“It’s a shock and a slap in the face for us. We are prisoners in here and they’re making up the rules as they go along. I wouldn’t wish it on our worst enemies.

“The whole situation is frustrating for a number of reasons, if we had been aware of the change in policy we would have had the luxury to make a decision based on fact. We were very happy to come back to China and quarantine in our own apartment with the cooperation of our community.

“We would not have come back to China so soon if we thought we had to go to a hotel and even if we had known and still decided to return we would have been prepared. It would be so much easier and stress free for everyone involved if people were permitted to quarantine at home. The entire state of affairs is illogical and completely ridiculous.”

Belmour said she hopes to get out of quarantine and back to her own home by Saturday. 

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