COVID-19: Mexicans abroad tell their stories from ground zero

On January 30, the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus epidemic in China constitutes a public health emergency of international concern

COVID-19: Mexicans abroad tell their stories from ground zero
On January 30, the WHO declared coronavirus as an international emergency – Photo_ Cheng Min/Xinhua
English 15/02/2020 16:01 Newsroom/EL UNIVERSAL in English Mexico City Sandra Tovar, Teresa Moreno, Guadalupe Galván, Ariadna García, Perla Miranda Actualizada 16:41
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On January 30, the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus epidemic in China constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, announced the decision after a meeting of its Emergency Committee, an independent panel of experts, amid mounting evidence of COVID-19 spreading to some 18 countries.

The declaration of a global emergency triggered recommendations to all countries aimed at preventing or reducing cross-border spread of disease while avoiding unnecessary interference with trade and travel.

 It covers temporary recommendations for national health authorities worldwide, which include stepping up their monitoring, preparedness, and containment measures.

The outbreak is linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, but some patients diagnosed with the new coronavirus deny exposure to this market. The WHO said an animal source appears most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak and that some limited human-to-human transmission is occurring.

The first vaccine targeting China’s coronavirus could be available in 18 months, “so we have to do everything today using available weapons”, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

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He said the virus had been named COVID-19, explaining that it was important to avoid stigma and that other names could be inaccurate.

Although no cases of COVID-19 have been registered in Mexico until now, Mexicans are not fully free from the chaos and danger involving the outbreak, for many of them live or have traveled to countries where the virus has already spread.

Here are some of the first-hand experiences from ground zero.

Living in a ghost city
Aglaee Tamez, who is 30 years old and is from Monterrey, Nuevo León, is a Mexican living in Beijing who told EL UNIVERSAL via phone call about her life amid the coronavirus international emergency.

“We live in a ghost city with extreme prevention measures, locked at home but with the certainty that the Chinese government is doing everything to control and eradicate coronavirus,” she says.

She adds that until now, the toughest has been to endure being confined but that she goes out for some minutes to breathe fresh air.

“I feel anxiety because of the confinement; I live alone and get bored and desperate. It’s normal to be afraid because you don’t know what will happen in Beijing, but I have trust that everything will go back to normal.

“In the building where I live, they ask us to register whenever we go in and out and they monitor our temperature to make sure we don’t have coronavirus symptoms,” she mentions.

One day, Aglaee had to leave her apartment because the app she uses to buy food stopped working, “It's shocking to see the city empty; at the malls, I could see very few people buying food. We have to out with masks, we avoid handshakes, and, most of all, we are very careful with food: we clean fruits and vegetables very well and cook fish and chicken.”

Despite the inconvenience and her family’s pressure to come back, she says she and other Mexicans (nearly 40) are not planning to leave the city for they have jobs or are studying. Aglaee had contact with Mexico’s Embassy in Beijing and she was told that if the virus spreads, she will be provided the necessary attentions to leave the city.

She adds that she is amazed by the government’s response to the epidemic for in only a few days they closed cities and built a hospital: “I feel a lot of respect for the Chinese community for the way they are working to control this disease and for everything to go back to normal” she concludes.

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Studying in China
Liz Anel Cruz Rangel, a 28-years-old student, was one of the 18 Mexicans who were able to return to Mexico with the help of the government.

Liz Anel had been living for five months in China, getting ready for her formal enrollment in a Tourism postgraduate course at the International University of Heilongjiang, located in the city of Harbin.

It was amidst the celebrations for the Chinese New Year when the warnings spread about a dangerous disease in the Asian country.

“There were rumors about a dangerous virus, so we heard. Then, in the news, we saw there was actually one and that we had to be careful. We were very far from Wuhan and since it is very cold, we didn’t believe the virus would spread.

“We were not alarmed, but little by little it spread and got out of control. We were confined, studying. Our routine was to go from the classroom to our room and back. I was scared of going out to the market or any crowded place,” she says.

Although she feared to lose the opportunity of studying abroad, which was her dream, she feared for her life the most when cities began being quarantined, “We were extremely worried when we saw several cities were in quarantine; things became serious. I was afraid. Health is first and it must never be risked. I thought ‘ If I get sick, I won’t be able to finish my degree” that is why I decided to come back” explains the young woman back home in León, Guanajuato.

It was thanks to the Mexican government that Liz Anel was able to come back to Mexico because although she had already considered leaving China, as a student, she was not able to pay for an airplane ticket to go back home.

Now that she is back, she is surprised by the attitude of some of her acquaintances who have got in touch with her through social networks to tell her she was wrong in coming back to Mexico and some have even told her she brought the virus to the country.

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“I’m very happy to be with my family but I’m also sad to see the reaction of some people. To return this way was not something we wanted and we know that if we had been infected we would have brought the virus, but we have been aware and have taken the necessary measures to avoid doing that,” she asserts.

She explains that since she left China, she has been checked at least by three sanitary filters in the different airports she visited. In addition, Mexico’s Health Ministry is monitoring all the students for 14 days in case they present any respiratory disease symptom, “We are going to be isolated but in our homes. We were asked not to visit crowded places during this time. With any symptom that shows, they will immediately check on us. My parents are very happy I’m back and that the government has taken care of us,” she mentions.

Quarantined on a cruise ship
Mexican Yolanda Rocha del Valle thinks she is in a “privileged quarantine.” Onboard of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, she and her husband Joaquín are waiting patiently for the moment in which they will be able to get off the ship in which they are confined since February 3 after a COVID-19 case was detected.

In total, there 218 positive cases in the ship infected with the disease and thus anguish is taking over the vessel, according to Yolanda in a phone interview with EL UNIVERSAL.

“We are fine, we’re trying to keep our spirits up although we are confined in a room which we can only leave twice or thrice per week at most” However, other passengers are not doing so well, “There are people with claustrophobia or certain kind of stress,” she says. For these cases, there is psychological attention through a phone number, although it is only in English and Japanese.

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For the nearly 14 Latino passengers on board, Yolanda adds, it is complicated even to understand the captain’s reports on the situation. Yolanda helps them translating from English into Spanish.

One of the concerns was the lack of medication for passengers with chronic diseases, but Yolanda says that they already have a good supply. “We came only with a certain amount of medicine according to the times, but it was necessary to obtain medication from outside,” It’s been a “titanic mission because they have to be translated from Japanese into English.”

The Mexican mentioned that in addition to the doctors in the crew, the ship has been visited by nearly 40 doctors and that there is a big hospital with good infrastructure. Passengers check their temperature twice a day with the thermometers they were given. If it goes over 37.5, they must report immediately.

Until now, the quarantine is set to end on February 19 if nothing extraordinary happens. But her relatives, says Yolanda, “are worried” and for her and her husband the anxiety comes from the desire of “of being with our daughters, our grandsons, and our country.”

On the same cruise ship, there is another Mexican couple who, just as Yolanda and her husband, are enduring the coronavirus outbreak with their best attitude and waiting for everything to go back to normality soon.

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Evacuating Wuhan
The French government, led by Emmanuel Macron, has helped the Mexican government to evacuate 10 Mexican citizens who lived in Wuhan, the epicenter of novel coronavirus outbreak.

Besides the 10 Mexican citizens, citizens from other 30 countries also boarded the plane provided by the French government,

Now that the Mexican citizens have arrived in France, Mexican authorities will be in charge of monitoring them in case they are infected with coronavirus.

The Mexican citizens in Wuhan had requested help from the Mexican government to evacuate the Chinese city, and all of them fulfilled the necessary sanitary guidelines.

The Mexican government, through minister Marcelo Ebrard, has thanked the French and Chinese governments for their solidarity and help to evacuate the Mexicans from the epicenter of the 2019-nCoV outbreak.

Before the flight departed from Wuhan to France, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry announced that medical tests were applied to all passengers to make sure no one has infected with 2019-nCoV. Once they arrived in France, they would follow the sanitary protocols established by the European country and the Mexican government will continue to assist them so they can return to Mexico.


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