Swimmer Tao Li Returns To Hometown For CNY, Gets Stuck There As Wuhan Goes On Lockdown

In January, former national swimmer Tao Li headed to her hometown in Wuhan to celebrate Chinese New Year (CNY).

She reached Wuhan a day before all forms of public transport were suspended on 22 Jan.

Tao Li shared with Channel NewsAsia (CNA) what it was like to be stuck in Wuhan, before being evacuated to and quarantined in Singapore.


Everyone thought Covid-19 was in hospitals only

Tao Li and her family did not know that Covid-19 was spreading in the streets.

A worker disinfecting the streets

Recounting her visit to Wuhan, she told CNA,

… everyone thought it was in the hospitals… the airport was still busy when I landed.

She initially planned to return to Singapore on 26 Jan and was positive that Wuhan’s lockdown would end “after a few days”.

Yet, her WeChat feed indicated otherwise — the virus was a huge storm brewing.

Spent most of her time at home

The former national swimmer said she spent most of her time at home, only leaving when she had to buy groceries.

Her doubts resurfaced every time she left the house and she would wonder if there was a virus surrounding her.

Evacuated to Singapore

Since she had coaching commitments in Singapore, she wanted to return here as soon as possible. The embassy told her to be prepared for an evacuation flight on 29 Jan or 30 Jan.

Unfortunately, she had to leave her mother in Wuhan because of the latter’s Chinese nationality.

Tao Li’s mother

Tao Li, who has been back in Singapore since 13 Jan, says the house feels empty without her. Despite her dad’s updates on their safety, Tao Li does not feel reassured.

Multiple checks before boarding

Before the passengers were allowed on the Scoot flight, they had to go through several temperature screenings. Tao Li described the atmosphere to CNA as “very tense, everyone seemed to be scared of getting infected”.

That was not the only ‘delay’ — the plane had to be disinfected before they boarded it. Thus, everyone waited till 7am even though the flight was scheduled for 3am.


Life in quarantine was good

Upon arrival in Singapore on 30 Jan, Tao Li and the other passengers were screened.


After that, they were taken to a quarantine facility at Aloha Loyang. While she was initally worried about the centre, they were soon disproved.

Upon seeing the chalet, Tao Li exclaimed “it’s a good life here”. She took 14-days as a holiday instead of a quarantine.

Apart from 3 meals, masks and thermometers were given.


Deliveries could also be arranged for — “GrabFood, Foodpanda or bubble tea every day”.

The delivery staff would then leave the items at the quarantine centre’s guardhouse and it would be sent to their rooms.

Was eager to end quarantine

However, being stuck in a room for 14 days can be boring.

Tao Li shared about her induced anxiety sometimes when some evacuees tested positive for the virus. 5 out of the 92 evacuees were infected.

To test for the virus, a thin swab would be inserted through the nostrils to the back of the nose to get a mucus sample. It was a process that lasted a few seconds, but the pain caused her to cry.

Life’s priorities reshifted for Tao Li

At the end of her quarantine, Tao Li was ecstatic to go home. The time spent there seemed to encourage her to reflect on life.

She shared that before the epidemic, she thought about being rich or famous. Now, her priorities have shifted to things that are “more important than anything else”.

Of course I still have dreams, but that slows down … Now I think about my health, my family, and the ones I love…

Indeed, nothing matters more than health and our loved ones.

We hope that everyone can take this time to show some extra care to those around you.

Featured image adapted from CNA and Singapore National Olympic Council.