On Thursday, 83 people were evacuated from Wuhan, the Chinese city in the center of the corona virus outbreak, released from their 14-day quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on Wirral in Merseyside.
One of them, Ben Pinkerton, a 23-year-old teacher who works for Education First, an international language education and cultural exchange company, wrote exclusively for the Mail about his first seven days in “Camp Corona.” Here he talks about the second more difficult week, his joy at returning home – and his constant worries for his girlfriend Odile back in China.
Ben Pinkerton (left) and his roommate Josh put on masks before they go shopping in Wuhan
Saturday, February 8
It has been more than a week since we arrived in Arrowe Park and the days are dragging on. We all still wear masks outside our rooms. I feel that this second week will be a lot harder than the first in which unlimited internet access and British food were welcome novelties.
But all the negative feelings are washed away when I watch the news on TV and hear about the huge numbers of people infected in Wuhan, where I have been living and working for more than a year. Being bored or fed up won’t wash. I know that I am one of the lucky ones.
And I also focused on teaching and supervising my students back in China via WeChat and Skype. Today they all wanted longer lessons. It is clear that they must remain busy and distracted from what is going on while being locked up at home to prevent infection. So many people have died and my heart goes out to them all.
Sunday, February 9
It was not what I expected to do in quarantine, but I was able to buy a car today!
A friend I had given tutoring at the university sold me his Mark 5 Golf and beat quite a bit of the asking price. Maybe he feels sorry for me being stuck here!
Anyway, I am very happy because it means that when I am finally gone and back to my family, I can drive where I need to.
I celebrate spending the evening playing video games with Josh, my roommate from China. We played Escape From Tarkov – but the doctors don’t have to worry, we don’t get any ideas about leaving!
Monday, February 10
Wake up to the news that someone inside the facility apparently wanted to escape!
TV and radio stations report that one of our numbers had asked to leave. I know a few people had mentioned the idea of going last week. I ask around, but nobody seems to know who it is.
Fake news, maybe, or whoever it is, won’t admit it. I think it’s a silly idea. We knew what we are signing up for and, no matter how difficult it sometimes is, we just have to grind our teeth and get through it.
Apartment buildings at Arrow Park Hospital on the Wirral called ‘Camp Corona’ where 83 people were detained
Tuesday, February 11
The claims about someone who wants to leave Arrowe Park before the quarantine is over have apparently led the government to announce new powers. They can now let us stay here legally if necessary.
In fact, it didn’t cause much commotion here. They don’t have to fascinate us with our beds!
Most of us had the impression that, after we signed the paperwork that we were in quarantine before we boarded our flight from Wuhan, we were forced to stay here.
Anyway, 48 hours to go. We all keep our heads down and continue.
Today is an important day because we are all undergoing new tests to see if we are free of the corona virus, which I heard was officially named Covid-19. I am convinced that I’m fine, but it feels like GCSE is producing results when the doctor comes in.
Fortunately everyone is told that they are OK! There is a huge sense of relief and the morale is rising.
For the first time, people talk openly about their plans after they leave Thursday. Some people have come a long way. Fortunately I go to Chester, which is only half an hour away. I celebrate it with a bottle of Magners cider. We also sent in a few beers – Coronas and Foster’s. Today I saw online photos of Budweisers that were brought in. The beers are free and they certainly help to pass the time!
Finally free: the first detainees leave Arrowe Park by bus after their 14-day quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral in Merseyside
Wednesday, February 12
The NHS sometimes gets a bad press, but I don’t have a negative word about the doctors and nurses. They have overwhelmed us with kindness and made every effort to ensure that we are comfortable and OK.
The locals on the Wirral have also been great. The unit is full of cards and gifts that they have sent in, many of them for the children who are here. I’m taking some time today to read the messages. It is my last full day in the unit and this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Go to bed early – I can’t wait to wake up.
Thursday, February 13
Time to go! I say goodbye to the staff and thank them for everything they have done
We are asked to stand in line and there is a bit of jockey to get to the front. I am disappointed because I have been told that I am in the second coach.
The outside world is now a stone’s throw away. Officials place labels on our luggage and give us a medical bag with hand sanitizer and some medical documents. And then we get a packed lunch.
Suddenly we are outside. The first thing I say is “I can breathe!” While I take off my mask. It feels great and I stop for a few seconds to take it all before I step into the coach.
When I arrive home in Chester, they are hugs everywhere for family and friends. It’s been a long time since I saw them and it’s great to be together. We order fried chicken from my favorite takeaway and keep talking late.
Before I go to sleep, I chat with friends in China. They are very happy to be home.
Friday, February 14
It’s Valentine’s Day but I can’t see my girlfriend Odile [she is Chinese] is not ideal and we have to make do with a video call.
It is my first full day of “freedom” and it is just wonderful to live normally again. I take a long walk in the morning and take the time to think.
Many expats like me who left China are now faced with a difficult decision about what to do. I could return, but it should be a very good offer. Until then I make a new start in England.
Hopefully Odile can visit me here soon and I am sure we will make it work.
And I will keep in touch with all my friends there and pray that they will remain safe. Part of me will always be there. But now it’s time to move on.