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Mindset, Lockdown and Quarantine in China

By Loris Bertolacci

I write this more to explain the stages of my emotions, how I perceived this situation and how I changed or evolved my coping strategies or even perceptions as it all evolved.

 

When the first information started coming out in China about COVID-19, I remember being really rattled. I had a flight booked for early February for holidays in Australia. It was mid January and the coach at the Kunming Altitude Training Centre told me we had cancelled our move from there to Guanzhou due to the virus. We were at a large institute in Kunming at an altitude of 1900m finishing a phase of training. My thoughts at first were to get the hell out of China ASAP. Things didn’t change too much for a week. When I was told the Institute would go into total lockdown on Monday 27th January I panicked because I knew then already I had to cancel my flight home in early February due to the massive uncertainty. I organised this with staff in Shanghai and I will never forget a message I got on WeChat. Still at that stage no-one had any idea what was about to unleash. So I rebooked my holidays to late February. I had contract negotiations coming up in March which meant I had to be in China. It was starting to get messy.

 

 

I asked our manager if I could get some supplies like coffee and soap and other needs at a supermarket the night before the Institute went into lockdown. Sunday night. Eerie. After what I had read about the virus and its ability to infect, I was extremely worried about leaving the compound. Totally different to the ‘Bondi Beach” mentality of many Australians. I think being in China and considering it the epicentre of the virus already had me spooked and emotional. I did not have a “she’ll be right” mentality because I thought WTF am I doing here. But that night we ventured out into Kunming City. Ghost town already. Almost zero traffic. This is me outside the Supermarket. Cold night. No people. And I was spooked already, scared of touching anything, or being close to people.

 

 

I remember getting a trolley and realising I had touched it, then immediately grabbing my tracksuit and wrapping it around the handle. Inside the supermarket were only a few people. Only supermarkets and pharmacies were open. Already, that was it. Even at the counter I was so wary being close to anybody. Again this was because I perceived that I was in the “epicentre” of the virus. Little did I realise that Hubei was the epicentre, plus that Kunming would get very low statistics later on due to measures in place. And due to what I saw that night. A ghost town.

 

The next morning we were given trays and told we had to eat in our rooms. Told to pick up our food with masks on. At first I was so angry to have to do this. And the food choices were reduced automatically. My emotions and reactions were interesting. I was fuming, feeling socially deprived. One of our liberties had been removed. I was so pissed about being in this position. Last thing I wanted to do was stay in China. And the thought of getting my temperature checked three times a day rattled me. Apart from the fear of being recorded high it just seemed such an imposition. I was so annoyed to be in this situation and wanted to go home.

 

 

I used to walk at about 10am after taking a session with athletes, then at 11.15 I would go and pick up my lunch. Because it was quite sunny by then I was sweating, so I would stay in my room and wash my face with cold water and fan myself because I was spooked about recording a high temperature. Comical now, but at that point I thought WTF will happen if I am high? The steel tray even got me given how sterile it looked. Little did I know what awaited other countries still.

 

 

On Monday morning, January 27th, the Institute was put into total lockdown. It is a big place. Probably a 3km walk around. Very pretty. Lots of tracks and “nooks & crannies”. But reality is, I felt I was imprisoned. Little did I know what awaited me and the rest of the world. Being locked in really hit me. Sure I knew I was safer from the virus lurking outside but it was something I simply had not encountered before. And at that point it seemed dangerous simply being in China.

 

 

As the days rolled on in Kunming, I did have to keep working. I was extremely happy to stay away from people because already we had been warned that Social Distancing and washing hands was critical, and signs appeared everywhere. By early February, I was washing my hands 10 times a day and simply avoiding humans. There were some odd situations with masks and hygiene though. Athletes and coaches always wore masks when walking around. But the gym was busy with athletes because it was crowded. No masks. Everyone touching everything. Spooked me. I washed my hands with soap multiple times a session. Of course all the athletes were being tested and all were behind “barbed wire” fences so the likelihood of transmission was less but I was so wary. My reference point was being in China. I still think in Australia for some they think they are 100% safe.

 

 

But as it became apparent that the team was not going to move for months, I settled into a pattern with lifestyle and realised that I had to use the time to stay fit and healthy. Reality was that the Institute surroundings are so pretty so I simply started to walk more and pump iron more. I found a playground to do bodyweight sessions, which became a refuge and I kept hoping I could go home late February to Australia for 2 weeks holidays. Deep down I knew my hopes of going home were fading. So to be honest, lots of February I simply walked twice a day around the venue and started some projects online whilst working with the 2 teams.

 

 

I did become obsessed with looking at the statistics online in the Chinese Database in February. What struck me was the low numbers of virus in the province of Yunnan, where the City of Kunming is in the South of China. The statistics for Kunming never got above 100. Versus the epicentre Hubei. More so, I realised that I was safe. Safe behind closed gates, added to being in a city where the statistics were low. Yes a bit wary about the accuracy of the statistics but I still believe they reflect an accurate trend for the situation in China. Feeling safer was a massive relief and by then I had adapted to all the changes to lifestyle in the institute with temperatures and meals. In fact, I understood how thorough they were.

 

 

 

But the frustration remained with going home and again I had to change flights to late March in the scant hope that things would improve. With the situation in Italy escalating in Codogno and South Korea and Iran, it started being obvious that it was just a hope. Plus, flying meant I had to do several flights and stopovers and be in quarantine when I came back to China. I was so frustrated because I simply wanted to see my family.

 

My next stress point came when I was told I had to fly to Shanghai in early March to sign my contract and get a new visa. I simply now did not want to fly domestically because I felt safe within the institute. It was weird. Plus I was told that if I flew provinces, the rule was 2 weeks in quarantine in Shanghai in a room then 2 weeks in a room when I returned to Kunming! So strict here. The thought of 2 weeks in a room totally spooked me. I tried every avenue to avoid this. But before I knew it I was driving out of the institute to the airport.

 

What struck me in Kunming when I drove to the airport was the amount of traffic. That night in late January when I went to the supermarket, not a car was in sight. The airport was busy. A guy coughed behind me at check in and I glared at him in my Loris-tough face. I tried to not touch anything or go close to anyone. But so many people were flying. Again, a reflection that the tide had turned here. But it took ages to get through all the security checks and temperature checks and I had to download an APP on WeChat with a code to declare I was healthy.

 

The plane was packed. I had a family and young boy in seats next to me. I still thought I would get infected and was pissed at having to be exposed to this after months in lockdown. And halfway through the flight ... FML ... the baby started vomiting! Wow, infection control. I had to stand up and wriggle in and out and thought WTF is going on.

 

 

 

 

When I got to Shanghai, the protocol after landing was exhaustive. Multiple checks. APPs to be checked, things to be signed. And looking forward to 2 weeks in quarantine in a room. I was not happy. Added to the fact I felt I had been exposed to multiple groups and risk factors which I had avoided in the Institute and by not flying home to Australia. I was dreading the quarantine.

 

But it is amazing. Within the 2 weeks I had been in a room, my reference points, emotions, perceptions and even opinions had shifted markedly. As the 2 weeks evolved inside the room, my fear or even panic, was for Australia, Italy, and the fact that everyone was repeating the same mistakes China did early. Norman Swan was the only credible voice in the media. I was appalled at the AFL for not reinforcing the need to Social Distance in Australian Society. Not about playing. I was perplexed at Italy. I became obsessed with following the predictable political bullshit in the media.

 

 

In the first 2 days I was really angry at being stuck in a room also. Verging on panic. This reflected my attitude.

 

 

But within 2 days, I again assessed my situation and altered my mindset. I shifted my goals to being active -- doing 12,000 steps a day and doing an exercise circuit daily. I didn’t always get to 12,000, but that was the aim.

 

 

Plus, one lesson I did learn in coaching was to be yourself. Well, because of that, I decided to post what I think are funny but pertinent images of myself exercising in my room. Plus, it became another task I had to complete daily. Plus, responses on social media fuelled my ego. Some people were worried about my sanity. HA. But I did this for my sanity!

 

 

And another lesson I learnt was to appreciate the little things a bit. I was lucky to have a balcony and in the afternoon the Spring sun shone through. Fresh air and a nice view were, in my opinion, a game-changer given my situation. So, if you are housebound in Australia, then seriously, you have a garden!

 

 

So pretty worried when I see the stuff like Bondi Beach and just hope that in Australia, we have been spared the worst given isolation. But my whole focus shifted to being concerned about the situation in Australia.

 

 

The experience for me, or impact for me, is how quickly I shifted my radar or reference points, and how quickly I had to adapt to circumstances. Lockdown in an Institute seemed crazy at first in January, but now was like a holiday camp. Quarantine in a room seemed unbearable at first, but really just required a change in mindset, then putting some short term goals in place.

 

I sincerely hope Australia practices Social Distancing to the MAX in the next month. There is research evidence going back years that it works. Hope the skeptics understand this and the ignorant also.

 

So the summary is, I am ok! Look after yourself Australia.

 

What strategies are you using to stay sane in self-isolation?

 

Leave your answer to that question in the comments section below.

 

Photo by Zhimai Zhang on Unsplash

 

About Loris Bertolacci

Loris Bertolacci currently lives in China and works at the Kunming Altitude Training Centre. He was one of the first professional strength and conditioning coaches in Australia, having worked at Essendon, Collingwood, Western Bulldogs and Geelong Football Clubs. Since the AFL, Loris has become an ESSA Exercise Physiologist and has been involved in all facets of sports science, rehabilitation and training athletes.

You can connect with Loris on LinkedIn here.

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