By Ang Xiang Jun & Kathryn
The World of Health Organization (WHO) has declared a pandemic over a new coronavirus which causes an illness known as COVID-19 that has spread to nearly every country.
The cities of Wuhan, Xiantao and Chibi in Hubei province were placed under effective quarantine on 23 January 2020 as air and rail departures were suspended. By the end of the week, more areas were placed under lockdown affecting a total of 56 million people. This is due to approximately 5 million people who left the city without being screened for the illness before the lockdown was implemented in China. This took place during the Lunar New Year celebrations where hundreds of millions of people were in transit around the country as they were visiting their relatives. In the meantime, the COVID-19 cases have been increasing drastically during this period in Wuhan, especially a district called Hankou, where my internship hotel is located. During the lockdown, all the shops were closed, leaving only essential shops; convenience shops and pharmacies to be in operation. Even though a lockdown was imposed, a few people were still walking on the streets.
We were still asked to work at the hotel, but we had to go through a strict security check before we are able to enter the hotel premises, where body temperature was taken and recorded in a book on a daily basis. However, there were only a few guests having their meals at the restaurants, as most of the guests have checked out earlier or have cancelled their trip to Wuhan. In that time, there were no one to be seen having a meal at any of the hotel restaurants, as the guests would rather have their meals sent to their rooms. With that, the director of the hotel F&B decided to close all the restaurants.
On 26 January 2020, I received a call from the outlet assistant manager, Carrie who told us, me and my hostel mates, to pack all our things and to move to the hotel in the morning. When we arrived at the hotel, we were asked to put our things aside, a briefing was done, and a total of 53 hotel staff including us were asked to stay in the hotel. We were not allowed to go out at all. During the briefing, the General Manager mentioned that the hotel will temporarily put a halt to its operations. There won’t be any more guests allowed, but the 53 of us will continue operations and servicing the 20 – 30 remaining guests who are still checked-in at the hotel and some guests from the postpartum care centre which was located on the 20th floor of the hotel. The other departments such as the Sales & Marketing, Human Resources and Financial Departments were told to stop operations immediately. Some of the staff were being told to work from home and some of them were being transferred to assist in the Housekeeping Department.
From this point, very strict measures continued to be implemented at the hotel; every 4 hours, a regular body temperature check was taken, cutleries and dishware were no longer used, and they were substitute with takeaway boxes and disposable cutleries at the staff cafeteria. Meanwhile, my hostel mates and I were transferred to the In-Room Dining department, as all the restaurant were closed. Room service food was delivered to the guests, we wore new pair of gloves and washed our hands with soap and sanitized our hands after delivering room service food. There were some special guests staying at the hotel, for instance, a journalist who visits hospitals and conduct interviews the patients who are infected with COVID-19 and the doctors who are treating the patients. Whenever these journalists return to the hotel, body temperature checks will be taken and whenever they order food, we had to be extra careful. We will leave the food on a tray outside their room. We are told to have least interaction with the guests but still fulfil their requests during this critical moment.
At the same time, after consulting with Mr Sharizal, our Academic Department Head (Industry Collaboration, Short Courses & Alumni) from UOW Malaysia KDU and Ms Kelly from the Human Resource Department of the hotel I was having my internship in, we informed the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing and described the situation that is happening in Wuhan. The embassy was planning an evacuation plan to bring all the Malaysians home. In the meantime, they asked us to fill up some forms and set up a gathering point to arrange transportation to ferry us to the Tianhe airport.
On 3 February 2020 the Malaysian Embassy decided to do the repatriation process, we were told to pack our things, the F&B Director sent us off to the gathering point which was located at Shangri-La centre at 4pm. The officers took our body temperature, ask us to use hand sanitizer and lastly proceed to the counter to verify our identity. We had to surrender our mobile phone to the officers and were told that we will get our mobile phones back when we got to the airport. Around 6pm, we departed to the airport by bus. During the journey, we went through several checkpoints; policemen did their counting on how many passengers were on the bus. Once we reached the Tianhe airport, body temperature checks were taken again, and asked we were asked to proceed to the gate to check-in. We went through customs and immigration following their instructions. We were not allowed to take off our masks during the whole process. We can only take off the mask for a while when verifying our. Midnight, on 4 February, we finally boarded the plane back to Malaysia.
We arrived at KLIA Airport early in the morning. We were told to leave all our luggage; we will only be able to get them once it is sterilized. There was a special unit where a relevant crew escorted us to the Air Disaster Unit (ADU) at KLIA, where decontamination and health screening processes took place. In ADU, we had to change to an attire prepared for us and underwent health screening. After the entire process, we left the ADU escorted by the police force to a monitoring facility called the Home Surveillance Centre, where all the returnees will undergo a 14-day quarantine.
In the Home Surveillance Centre, health screenings were performed every morning the by staff station. They asked about our health conditions and took our body temperature. Our meals were being sent by a staff and placed in front of our door every day. On the 8th and 14th day of our quarantine, they ran tests on us to ensure that we were not infected with the novel coronavirus. Finally, on 18 February, we were all discharged after ensuring that our test results were negative. After completing the check-out process, we returned the keys and collected our letter prepared by Ministry of Health and our passport.
In summary, I would say that it is really an unforgettable memory for us, I had gone through a lot during this pandemic. I will never think of it as a disaster, but I looked at it as a rare opportunity that others will not experience. During this internship, I grew to be a stronger person, and it has conditioned me to have a better mindset. It also taught me to be cautious and how to deal with a similar situation if it does happen again in the future.
UOW Malaysia KDU
Monday – Friday
9.00am – 5.30pm
Marketing & Admission (Glenmarie)
10.00am – 3.00pm
Marketing & Admission (Penang)
9.00am – 5.00pm
Sunday and Public Holiday