An airline attendant holds a poster saying,"Welcome home" on the plane taking the Xinjiang medical team home on March 17, 2020. (Photo: GT)
"Welcome back, our heroes!"
The same greetings could be heard on many charted planes as medical teams head home from Wuhan and Hubei. Receiving widespread declarations of gratitude, the medical teams expressed their sincere hope for Hubei to soon overcome the pandemic.
Returning home, some have praised the people of Hubei as the true heroes, citing their sacrifice as the main national contribution.
Medical teams aiding Hubei and its capital city Wuhan have begun leaving in batches since Tuesday. Both goodbye and welcoming ceremonies have been seen across Wuhan and the medical teams' hometowns.
Together with other 101 members from the second batch of medical teams that aided Wuhan from Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Bahagul Tolheng took a chartered flight from Wuhan to regional capital Urumqi at Tuesday night. Wuhan is 3,200 kilometers away from Urumqi.
"We met with a medical team from Yangzhou of Jiangsu Province at the Wuhan Tianhe International Airport. They invited us to visit Yangzhou, and we answered by saying how about you guys come to Xinjiang? Everyone is laughing and feels relieved," Bahagul told the Global Times.
Also at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport, medical teams from East China's Shandong Province and Southwest China's Sichuan Province greeted and waved at each other. Thirty-nine days ago, The two medical teams met at the airport when they first arrived in Wuhan. A video showing them cheer up each other went viral on the internet.
The hashtag "Shandong Sichuan medical teams meet again" was viewed more than 140 million times on social media as of press time.
Many medical teams at the airport expressed similar joy as the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in Hubei has remained less than 10 in nine consecutive days as of Thursday. On Thursday, no confirmed cases were reported from Hubei.
The encouraging statistics showed the pandemic situation has greatly changed in Hubei, allowing these medical teams to return to their home cities and towns.
"It is good to hear that the situation in Wuhan and Hubei is getting better and better. As we have left Wuhan, there are still many medical personnel working in hospitals and patients waiting to recover. We hope all patients get better soon and wish Wuhan and Hubei will get better soon," Bahagul said.
From January 24 to March 8, 346 teams, with 42,600 professional medical workers, rushed to capital Wuhan and other parts of Hubei to help local residents and medics in their fight against the outbreak of COVID-19.
Gone but remembered
Bahagul and her colleagues were the second team sent to support Wuhan from Xinjiang a month ago and they had worked in the two improvised hospitals set up in Donghua and Xihu.
She worked in the makeshift hospital in Donghu, where many patients with mild cases were treated. To cheer these patients up as well as to shorten their emotional distance from the medical staff, Bahagul led a patients' dance in the hospital in mid-February. Videos of the event went viral on Chinese social media with many netizens commenting that they were deeply touched by medical workers' cheerful spirit and optimism.
"The patients were like our families and we chatted and danced together. When reflecting my month-long stay in Wuhan, I could remember the moments of tears and joys shared with them. When the [makeshift] hospital closed on March 8, we had the sense of loss but also delight as the patients could finally go home safe and sound."
Bahagul said that Hubei people praised medical teams as heroes, but "we are just doing our jobs. The medical staff in Wuhan, Hubei and the residents here as well as all Chinese people are the real heroes since everyone has made sacrifices to prevent the virus."
Wang Jinquan, deputy head of the medical team sent by Anhui Provincial Hospital to Wuhan, expressed the same sentiments with Bahagul.
The atmosphere is warm and there is harmony in the hospitals between medical staff and patients, which flies in the face of rumors of some Western media that magnifies the grumbles of some over the optimism of others in Wuhan, Wang told the Global Times.
"As we ended our assistance work and left Wuhan on Wednesday morning, a neighborhood family waved the [Chinese] national flag and gave us a thumbs-up from the balcony. They are grateful for everything we did here. People in Wuhan are heroes defined by what they suffered and sacrificed for us," said Wang.
Li Jianing, a nurse on the aid team sent by the Second Xiangya Hospital of Central South University in Hunan Province, stayed in contact with her previous patients in the Wuchang makeshift hospital.
"Patients left lovely messages of appreciation for us in the WeChat group, like family and friends. Some patients even plan to visit me with gifts of local specialty snacks," Li told the Global Times.
After more than one month of fighting as a group, Li finally saw the last infected patient discharged from the makeshift hospital on March 10.
"The first three days in Wuhan were the hardest for me. I often had a splitting headache and difficulty breathing because the protective glasses were too tight," Li recalled. "But no one quit, just because the patients said they felt relieved seeing us.
"On the whole way back from Wuhan to Changsha, many people saluted us, and there were volunteers holding national flags at the high-speed railway station to welcome us home. The warmth drove away all our tiredness," she said.
United as one
Bahagul said that as a girl from the Kazak ethnic group in Xinjiang, she was once again impressed by the solidarity and spirit of the Chinese people. When there is an emergency in one province, all the other provinces and municipalities come to help, she said. "The cohesion of the whole country under the central government helps us make progress in the prevention work."
Wang from Anhui said, "Only nine hours after we got a call to set up a medical aid team, the 127-member team got ready for departure. Such concerted efforts and mobilization efficiency are hard to achieve outside China."
Wang's team, staffed with the most experienced infectious disease specialists and medics from East China's Anhui Province, treated critically ill patients with novel coronavirus infections in a designated hospital in Wuhan.
More than 1,000 medics signed up for the aid team, and 127 were finally chosen based on criteria including expertise, psychological qualifications, and family status, according to Wang.
"We medical workers expressed their determination in waves to go to the epicenter to battle on the frontline. That underlines our system's advantages, portraying unique responses and capacities in an epidemic crisis," said Wang.
"Upon our arrival, the head nurse of a Wuhan hospital burst into tears after saying a word of thanks when they finally got strong reinforcements," he continued. "The moment exemplified everyone's determination to fight together against the virus as warriors who rely on and trust their comrades."
Wang believes the outbreak has brought out solidarity and trust between doctors and patients in fighting COVID-19, stressing that patients think of ways to protect and warn each other, such as by helping medical workers avoid infection.
As people in Hubei express their gratitude toward medical staff from across the country who came to fight with them, many in their hometowns also staged warm welcomes.
Some medical team members reached by the Global Times said that the cabin crew of their chartered planes specially sang songs for them during the flight. When their buses were going to the quarantine hotels, police officers along the streets gave them salute and citizens waved arms and said, "welcome back!
According to Fuzhou Daily, 204 members of the medical team from East China's Fujian Province that went to help Wuhan arrived home in capital Fuzhou on Wednesday. Photos of medical staff and their names were broadcast on digital screens of landmark buildings in the city on Wednesday night as a salute.
"I will forever be grateful to these heroic and adorable people: the medical staff. They have risked their lives to change the situation and bring hope to our people, a Sina Weibo user wrote under a related topic of the medics leaving on Wednesday.
"So touching! The lovely medical team members could proudly say that they have risked their lives for others. You are the pride of the Chinese people, another praised.
A video, posted by the People's Daily on Tuesday showing a Wuhan volunteer in Pikachu outfit waving goodbye to the medical teams, was played more than 8.8 million times with 203,000 likes on Sina Weibo as of press time. "I brought myself here to say 'thank you I hope they are happy to see me, the man said in the video.
The scene of medical staff returning evoked, for some netizens, comparisons with doctors and nurses initial work in Hubei, according to the Lanzhou Morning Post.
Some medical workers from Gansu and Henan medical teams were told to shave their long hair for the upcoming laborious work, which triggered controversy and online criticism. Many netizens said they felt heartache for these doctors and nurses who sacrificed themselves in the battle against the virus.
"They are pretty in any look. Now after the pandemic they could be the way they like again, said a netizen on Thursday.