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

B.C. man who returned from teaching in Wuhan not sure when he can go back

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

Racist incidents on the rise in the Okanagan as coronavirus spreads

UBCO professor not surprised by recent incidents

Pecha Kucha speaker series returns to Cannery Brewing

The speakers will share character building experiences to begin Pecha Kucha’s sixth year in Penticton

Man accused of attacking Penticton doctor has charges dropped by Crown

Charges against Gregory Nield for alleged attack on a psychiatrist at PRH stayed by Crown

Okanagan Similkameen Parks Society invites public to annual general meeting

Michael Healey, UBC professor emeritus and fisheries scientist, will be presenting.

Budget woes continue to plague School District 67

The board of trustees for School District 67 will hire outside help to deal with budget concerns

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

Fire crews battle large blaze in West Kelowna

Reports of multiple structures on fire in the Colleen Road area

Toffoli scores OT winner as Canucks beat Habs 4-3

Demko makes 37 saves for Vancouver

Kelowna man charged after naked driver leads RCMP on hit-and-run spree

A Kelowna man has been charged with numerous offences

Private clinics would harm ‘ordinary’ people using public system in B.C.: lawyer

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in 2018 that the government would begin to fine doctors $10,000

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

Most Read