Coronavirus: Wuhan family in Dubai fear for relatives in lockdown back home

Chinese resident in Dubai says silence has fallen over Wuhan as virus outbreak grips city

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , Jan 23  – 2020 :- Cheng Shengping (right) with his family Menglan Zhu (wife left), Changgeng Cheng (Father), Rongya Ma (Mother) and Qianqian (Son) at his flat in International City in Dubai. They are from Wuhan city in China. ( Pawan  Singh / The National ) For News. Story by Ramola

A Chinese resident in Dubai has spoken of his worry for family members in Wuhan as the deadly coronavirus leaves a city in lockdown.

Shengping Cheng said he calls family and friends several times a day to check on their welfare as the death toll continues to rise and the virus spreads across the globe.

Schools have been closed indefinitely and several businesses have shut until February 3 as part of a major effort to prevent the virus from spreading further.

Mr Shengping said his sister told him how quiet has fallen over the city at the centre of a growing health crisis as residents stay inside their homes, leaving only to pick up essentials.

I tell all my friends not to panic

“My sister and her family go out just to buy food provisions. They say the whole city is quiet,” he said.

“Even the supermarket is open for only a few hours. My sister’s family is at home watching television. Everyone is staying home so even in the neighbourhood there are no gatherings of people.”

Mr Shengping is relieved his father Changgeng extended his two-month vacation in the UAE after flights to Wuhan were suspended last week.

After celebrating Chinese New Year in Dubai, his father chose to remain rather than attempt to fly to a city close to Wuhan.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates -(L-R) Li Jiaqi, Cai Chang and Li Huafei helping with boxes of mask to be shipped to China at DDU express, Al Quoz Industrial area.  Leslie Pableo for The National for Ramola's story

China has shut down at least 11 cities – mainly in the Hubei province – and suspended public transport.

However, the Shengping family was not worried upon learning about the UAE’s first case of the virus, which was confirmed on Wednesday.

“It is far better that my father stay here with us. It is safe here because there are too many cases at home now. He can return home when everything settles down,” the younger Shengping said.

“Dubai is better because it is not so crowded here. Naturally, there is a case in Dubai. Tourists from China are everywhere so it [the virus] had to come here. I tell all my friends not to panic.”

Chinese residents in Dubai have rallied together to send disposable masks, gloves and other protective gear to family and hospitals back home.

Wearing masks is mandatory in some Chinese cities where the flu-like virus has killed at least 132 people, almost all of them in the province of Hubei, the capital of which is Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak.

UAE residents said the massive effort of sending hundreds of thousands of cartons filled with medical supplies began soon after they heard from relatives in China about a shortage of disposable face masks due to the temporary closure of factories.

This prompted thousands of Chinese residents to pool their resources with business associations, restaurant owners and travel groups co-ordinating efforts to send supplies that also include goggles and medical overalls.

“There is an urgent need for masks so many people are helping out,” said Huafei Li, who is part of the Sichuan Chongqing Chamber of Commerce.

“Some people go after work to buy the masks and others like me organise the collection and the transport. Everyone is trying their best.”

Teams have spread out across the Emirates, purchasing masks from chemists. Dozens of boxes are stacked up in front of restaurants in International City and inside warehouses in Al Quoz awaiting collection.

A surge in the price of masks has upset some like restaurant owner Jiang Yanying. She too has sent home about 40 boxes of surgical-quality face masks.

“People have decided to complain to the economy department in Dubai because pharmacies should not charge high prices when it is an emergency medical situation,” said Ms Jiang who wears a mask when she commutes to work in a Dubai shopping mall.

“Chinese people who meet a lot of tourists are taking care and wearing a mask for protection. It is good to be careful.”