Mom from Centurion stranded in Wuhan – ‘I’m tired, hungry, and scared’

Coronavirus. (Photo: Getty/Gallo Images)
Coronavirus. (Photo: Getty/Gallo Images)

A 39-year-old woman from Centurion, Gauteng, has only one wish: being back home in South Africa with her two kids. 

Tania Groenewald* is one of the 184 South Africans in Wuhan, China, waiting to be evacuated from the city by military aircraft.

By Thursday she’d been trapped in Wuhan, the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak, for 46 days.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize have undertaken to airlift South Africans in Wuhan who want to return home.

It’s not clear exactly when the group will arrive in South Africa or where they’ll be quarantined for 21 days. According to the latest government statement, negotiations are under way with service providers for quarantine facilities.

Some 200 South Africans live in Wuhan but not all of them want to leave because they’re concerned about losing their jobs in the city.

But Tania wants to come home – badly.

Tania and the CEO of the company she’s employed with had planned a business trip to Wuhan for just five days. They arrived on 20 January and were due to depart on 25 January. But then all flights were cancelled and their hotel put under lockdown from 29 January. Residents have been ordered to stay indoors and no one is allowed to enter or leave the country without proper permits.

“I don’t know how to describe it – my mind just doesn’t want to anymore,” Tania told YOU in a WhatsApp on Thursday. “Today, I’ve been away from my kids for 46 days. I feel numb. If it hadn’t been for the Chinese people here, I’d have lost hope a long time ago.

“I’m scared, I’m homesick. I’m tired, hungry and scared – name the emotion, I feel it. Then you start stressing out that you might get sick and your mind starts playing games. Government is coming to fetch us but we’re still wondering when, what, where . . .”

She sends a picture of her dinner in the hotel: two slices of bread with a little cheese. Access to food and delivery has become problematic in Wuhan.

“Each time an ambulance drives past, I want to cry. I’ve lost 7kg,” Tania says.

“I feel it’s important for a lot of people in SA to open their eyes. Social media has shown me how judgmental we can be,” she explains.

“The people in China are amazing! They’ll give you their last so you can have too. My own family has said it [the virus] is because they eat dogs and cats. But no one knows for sure where the virus came from. And by the way, they take care of their animals much better than many South Africans do.”


Tania says she’s really struggling emotionally. “I can’t let myself have any expectations. The letdown is so bad that it takes me days to recover. Mentally, I don’t know if I’ll ever leave my kids again. If they don’t fetch us on Tuesday [10 March], I’m going to lose it.”

She’s fully prepared to stay in quarantine for 21 days in South Africa – as long as she can come home.

“I don’t believe I’ll ever get over this. Spending so much time in your own head – it messes with your mind. I don’t feel 39 today, I feel 99.”

*Name changed to protect her identity and her children’s identities.

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