The Corona Diaries - Cancellations and the Fallout
My plan to get back to China keeps changing, evolving, mutating if you will. I was originally scheduled to fly from Calcutta to Kunming on the 9th and then take a high-speed train on to my adopted hometown of Liuzhou. I got the first cancellation message late on the 7th, notifying me that train service out of Kunming had been suspended. It wasn’t clear if that meant all trains, so I went to check and found that all the trains were showing as “sold out”. Actually, there was one old style regular train showing as available, but the idea of spending 16 hours on a train in close proximity to other travelers with the Wuhan coronavirus floating around wasn’t appealing. I was able to find a direct flight and made a reservation from Kunming to Liuzhou, only to have that flight cancelled just a few hours later, early on the 8th. It was looking like I might have to stay in India for some time yet… more on that in a moment.
None of this was very surprising of course. Almost every country and airline by this point had begun suspending service to and from China. Those that were still flying had greatly reduced their routes. China Eastern had reduced their Calcutta - Kunming route but they were still running four flights a week. It looked like I could get to Kunming. The problem was getting from Kunming to Liuzhou.
My options were dwindling. My first thought was that I’d just try and wait it out in India. I’m fortunate to have friends all over the country and people were already offering to open their homes to me. Our closest friends, Sabya and Lopamudra Talukdar, had assured me that I could continue to stay with them in their Calcutta home for as long as was needed. So, being stuck in Calcutta for an extended period of time was not the worst thing. In fact, if I had to choose just one place to be stuck, as a photographer, Calcutta would probably top the list.
It was at about this time in the process, on the afternoon of the 8th, that I began to feel a bit uneasy about my Indian visa. I had forgotten that I’d chosen to get just a 30 day eVisa this trip and it was due to expire on the 22nd. To get another eVisa allowing me to continue to stay in India, I would actually need to leave the country, apply for and get a new eVisa, and then come back in. An inconvenience, but not the end of the world. There are no extensions on eVisas, particularly in the midst of something like this Wuhan coronavirus. So, the plan then became… fly to Bangkok, stay a few days while my new Indian visa application was being processed and then return to India. I wouldn’t be out too much money and I had a home in India I could return to. I was actually filling out the visa application online and ready to make plane reservations to Bangkok, when the notification came in from the Indian government that no visas were being approved or issued to anyone who had been in China on or after the date of January 15th. That was me. I was already in India but I wasn’t going to be able to stay past the 22nd, and I wasn’t going to be issued a new Indian visa anytime soon. It was about this time that China Eastern decided they would suspend all flights into and out of Calcutta. Now I couldn’t even get to Kunming. That option had been closed for the foreseeable future.
I had already done some research about heading to America and waiting it out over there. My adult kids would have taken me in and of course it would be nice to see them and spend time with the grandchildren. Getting to Los Angeles and then Denver from Kolkata would take anywhere from 30 to 56 hours and was going to take a huge unexpected hit on my wallet, so maybe not the best option but it was fast becoming one of my few remaining ones. The thing about heading to America though, is the possibility of getting stranded in the states for months until they get this virus under control.
The choice then became to just wait it out a few more days. I still had the Indian visa until the 22nd so I didn’t need to rush a decision. Perhaps something miraculous would happen in the meantime…
I haven’t forgotten about sharing with you why it is I want (need) to return to China so badly when most anyone who can, is doing whatever they can, to get out. I’m already out after all. You see, China isn’t just a place I visit. China is home and has been for more than 14 years now. In fact, I’ve lived in Liuzhou longer than I’ve ever lived in any one place. I have a nice house full of all my “stuff”. My office is there. Most importantly, my wife and daughter are there, alone, in the middle of this epidemic. They have self-quarantined, leaving the house only to get groceries just three times over the past three weeks. My little dog Elvis is there. My clothes, most of my cameras and lenses, my doctors, my medicine, again, all my “stuff”… is in China. I have obligations and commitments there as well and we’ll take a huge financial hit if I can’t return soon. In fact, fallout from the coronavirus has already created a significant negative economic impact on our family. How can I abandon my wife in this situation? I know the risks involved in returning and of course I’ll take all the appropriate precautions… but yeah, it’s still a risk. Even so, I need to get home.
So, to update. I’d made up my mind that I would wait for a bit, make the most of my extended stay in India and hope something might change before the 22nd… perhaps I had overlooked something? I would continue exploring all my options and that just about brings us up to date… just about.
The official number of deaths in mainland China passed 1,000 today, with 108 deaths on Monday. Almost 2,500 new cases were reported yesterday as well. On a positive note, nearly 4,000 infected patients in China have been cured and discharged from hospitals.
Next - Something Ovelooked
12:38PM - February 11th - Calcutta