Published: 01st February 2020
Remember the Chennai med student who 'flew solo' on plane from China? Turns out she wasn't alone — and she didn't want to return!
As a medical student, I felt it is not right for me to come back because this was something that could happen in the future to me, the student said
M Velam was determined not to come back from China. Her parents had been asking her to return home to Chennai from the day the news broke about the Coronavirus. It was only when her father finally booked the ticket without her knowledge, that Velam was forced to take the flight back. That was only two days ago — though she had first heard about the virus early this month.
Velam has been in the news because of a certain selfie she posted on social media — where she appeared to be the only passenger in the flight that left China, with only empty passenger seats behind her. Turns out it wasn't true. There were in fact other passengers on the plane. I actually didn't say I was the only person on the flight. But I was the only student on board," she laughs. Even in that picture she is seen as being exceptionally positive, for someone who was believed to be fleeing an epidemic, so to speak. "Most of the seats were empty because very few people are choosing to travel during this time," she added.
Velam is a fifth year medical student, who eventually flew in from Tianjin via Singapore to Chennai. The 22-year-old's University had closed for holidays when the news of the virus first broke, it was Velam's teachers who had first told her and her peers about the virus, "They told us that if there was any way that we could go home, we should go. And if we decided to stay back then we should ensure we don't go out, don't interact with strangers and constantly wash our hands and limit our outings. They did their best to keep us safe," Velam said. Soon, everybody in her class left to go home.
But Velam stayed back. And despite her parents asking her to return, Velam decided to stay put and take care of herself. "As a medical student, I felt it is not right for me to come back because this was something that could happen in the future to me. In the future there could be an instance where I have to interact with patients who might have a virus like this and I would have to be calm and help them. Being a medical student I felt I should learn from the situation and let it help me prepare for the life of a doctor," the young woman said. Another reason why Velam felt it wasn't a good idea to leave is because she felt that being in any form of transportation would be more risky than staying secluded in her room. "During such outbreaks, it is best to stay indoors. Travelling during this time could put one at more risk because we'll be interacting with others during travel," she tells us.
So Velam stayed inside her room up until two days ago and took care of herself. Knowing that his daughter would probably not listen to them, Velam's father directly booked her tickets back and then told her about it, "He just suddenly booked it himself. He was worried that the whole experience might affect me mentally as well especially because I had confined myself to my room and since all the other Indian students had left as well, he asked me to return."
But it wasn't all about just packing up and leaving, transport to the airport was also going to be difficult. No buses were available, shuttle buses had been stopped and trains were not a very good idea, when Velam checked for cabs, their services were suspended too. "They have something similar to Uber there but when I checked it said services had been shut. But miraculously, I was able to book a cab. I was told to wear a mask and the driver had one too. So that's how I made it to the airport," she narrated. On her way, the streets were not as busy as they usually are, only a few vehicles and the pedestrians were barely any.
When she got to the airport, Velam had to fill in a form stating if she had a fever, cough or a cold. They also asked her to list where she was coming from and where she was going. Subsequently, she was put through a screening where they checked her temperature and other vitals. Finally, a few hours later, she was strapped on to her seat. Less than half the plane was full.
After a stopover at Singapore where she went through another screening, she reached Chennai, where yet another screening took place. Now she's home in Vanagaram. So does she still feel like she should have stayed back? No, Velam has changed her mind. "I'm happy that I don't have to keep washing my hands," Velam says jokingly. She's also happy she's not confined to a room, can move about wherever she wants and can talk to anyone she wants.
The university has extended the vacation indefinitely and so Velam is not sure when she could possibly return. Besides the great education, Velam says that main reason why she chose China for her degree was because it was very safe. She says she's had a great five years and loves living there. So watching the news could be a little heartbreaking for the young woman — but Velam is hopeful. "If people take precautions, they will be completely safe. And they are doing a great job of handling the situation, so if people are careful, we will be fine," she adds.