Nelson’s Marc Savard is a teacher in Wuhan, China. He is back in B.C. waiting for when it is safe to return. Photo: Tyler Harper

Nelson’s Marc Savard is a teacher in Wuhan, China. He is back in B.C. waiting for when it is safe to return. Photo: Tyler Harper

As the coronavirus spreads, a Nelson man waits to return to China

Marc Savard left Wuhan just as the outbreak began, and now he can’t go back

Marc Savard wasn’t sure what to expect as he arrived in Vancouver.

He had been living in Wuhan, China, for two months and was returning to Nelson for a holiday break with family when his flight landed on Jan. 20. At that point novel coronavirus was spreading, but it was still business as usual in the city.

But Savard thought there was a chance he wouldn’t be allowed to pass through customs.

“The officer, she asked me where I was coming from,” he said. “I was on a flight from Shanghai so what was I doing in China? I said ‘I’m actually working in Wuhan.’ She said, ‘Oh, are you sick?’ I said no.”

She welcomed him back home and waved him through security. Two days later Wuhan closed its airport and rail stations. The city has been under quarantine ever since, and now Savard isn’t sure when he’ll return.

The specific strain of coronavirus known as 2019-nCoV has infected 40,600 people as of Monday, all but 429 of whom are in China, and 909 people have died according to global health authorities. The majority of cases have been in the province of Hubei, which includes Wuhan. China’s National Health Commission said 97 people died on Sunday in Hubei due to the virus.

Savard, 46, has lived in Nelson with his wife and two sons for 11 years. Last year he was hired by Maple Leaf International Schools to teach in Wuhan. His family was supposed to go with him, but they stayed behind in Nelson when the move was delayed from August to November.

So Savard went on his own to live and work in the city of 11 million people. He’s been a teacher for over 20 years and had taught abroad before, so the experience was nothing new. But on Dec. 31, just over a month after he arrived, the first case of coronavirus was reported in Wuhan.

Early speculation at his school was that SARS had returned. The 2002-03 epidemic also began in China and killed 774 people.

This was something new, though. The first death related to coronavirus occurred Jan. 11, but, as he prepared to leave for a break that coincided with Chinese New Year, Savard hadn’t noticed many signs of the outbreak in the city. Perhaps, he said, more people were wearing masks.

“It’s a very small minority of people who wear masks [in Wuhan]. But in the school too, more teachers wore masks.”

When Savard returned to Nelson he consulted with a doctor, who told him not to worry if he had no symptoms. But the next weekend, on a trip to Kelowna, he began to feel ill. He visited a hospital, was tested, and quarantined himself in his hotel and later his home while he waited several days for results to return.

“Honestly, it’s probably never fun to be sick, but I was never afraid because I’m healthy and in good shape,” he said. “It’s just going to be unpleasant, but I never thought about death.”

It turned out to just be the common cold.

He feels fine now, but that hasn’t stopped people from approaching him with caution. Some take a step back when they find out he was in Wuhan. Players on his local hockey team wanted to know how he was feeling. He even received an email prior to a dentist appointment asking how his health was.

At first this annoyed Savard. Didn’t people trust him?

“People have a hard time trusting information,” he said. “But I’ve learned something about myself, too. I’m not going to take this as an insult. I’m just going to be there to inform and happy to share, inform, educate people.”

That has meant doing his best to calm the fears around him as conspiracy theories about the virus’s origins spread. Just seven cases have been identified in Canada, none of them fatal.

A colleague of his who is Chinese-Canadian is among those in a two-week quarantine after a plane carrying 176 people returning from China landed in Trenton, Ont., on Friday.

Savard, who is Caucasian, wonders what reaction his friend will face when he eventually leaves quarantine.

“I’m surprised by how many humans’ filter is so slim on critical thinking,” he said. “He’s Chinese? How long have they been here? Maybe they’ve never been [to China].”

Savard’s school told him not to book a return flight. For now, he’s spending time with his family, preparing online lessons for his students and considering looking for work in Nelson.

But mostly, he’s just waiting.

“What can I do? I’m not going to get stressed out. I’m here with my family and I’ll just wait to see what happens.”

Related:

Lower Mainland man on cruise ship quarantined in Japan for coronavirus

Two Canadians quarantined on cruise ship test positive for Wuhan coronavirus

Two B.C. visitors test positive for Wuhan coronavirus, now four cases

British Columbians most worried about coronavirus’ hit on tourism industry, poll says

Why do people get xenophobic when diseases like coronavirus hit?

VIDEO: A look at how Canadian workplaces can prepare for a coronavirus outbreak



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

The Nelson Police Department used a nail belt to stop a vehicle carrying large amounts of fentanyl and methamphetamine on the weekend. Photo: File photo
Nelson police seize drugs, make arrests, investigate slashed tires

Anyone with information on these events is asked to call 250-354-3919

The fundraising effort to purchase 40 hectares west of Cottonwood Lake announced its success this week. Photo: Submitted
Cottonwood Lake fundraiser reaches goal

The community group has raised $400,000 to purchase 40 hectares of forest

B.C.’s court of appeal in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Kootenay man appeals 7-year conviction for New Year’s Eve kidnapping, beating

Brandon Coons, 27, was convicted on five charges, including assault with a weapon

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

Vernon’s Noric House long-term care facility’s COVID-10 outbreak has been declared over by Interior Health. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
COVID outbreak at Vernon’s Noric House declared over

10 deaths were linked to the outbreak at long-term care facility

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Gas prices jumped in Golden to 131.9c this week, a trend that's supposed to continue into the summer. (Claire Palmer/Golden Star)
Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Clovechok concerned as gas prices continue to rise

Fuel prices are supposed to skyrocket this summer as British Columbians await BCUC analysis

Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Most Read