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

Just Posted

View inside BC Hydro's Discovery Centre.
BC Hydro Discovery Centre reopening

Public can once again visit displays on way to Elk Falls

Pat McKenna, Habitat VIN's executive director and Alli Epp, Comox Valley Community engagement manager in front of Design Therapy, one of almost 200 businesses contributing to Bid to Build. Karen McKinnon Photo.
‘#BidToBuild’ auction launching to support affordable housing

Auction builds on last year’s successful effort, with new twists

Hope Rocks at the Campbell River Art Gallery highlighting local linguistic diversity.
Paint a rock to celebrate diversity

Hope Rocks highlighting linguistic diversity in Campbell River

Reflective number or design on hoodie. Police are seeking help in identifying three youth involved in an incident on Soderholm Road early June 12. Photo courtesy Campbell River RCMP
Do you know where your kids were at 1:24 a.m.?

Campbell River RCMP seeking help identifying three youths

John Hart Dam near Campbell River, B.C. BC Hydro photo
Campbell River watershed forecasts improve with rainfall

BC Hydro projects slightly higher resevoir levels and river flows after rainy May and June

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Gabriola Island artist Sheila Norgate is promoting the Digital Innovation Group’s art impact survey. (File photo)
Vancouver Island artists get behind regional arts impact study

Artists urged to use their stature to help put arts and culture super-region on the map

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Vancouver Island Good Samaritan’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

Most Read