BEIJING (AP) — Arek and Jenina Rataj were starting a new life in the Chinese industrial center of Wuhan when a viral outbreak spread across the city of 11 million.
Almost immediately, the metropolis teeming with Lunar New Year holiday revelry turned suddenly quiet. The couple, who have been married for five years, bought masks and kept to their apartment on the campus of Jianghan University, where Poland native Arek had recently taken a position teaching visual communication.
While they were relatively safe sheltering at home, treating their foyer as a type of airlock, Arek felt compelled to go out and document the outbreak of the new type of coronavirus. Among his subjects: the construction of a new hospital built in a handful of days, biosecurity check points, closed bus stations; empty streets and families gathered at playgrounds when the sun broke through winter clouds.
Then Arek got a call to go to the French Consulate for evacuation along with other European Union citizens, but with no guarantee of a ticket for Jenina, a Philippine citizen. Despite the uncertainty, they decided to try, but vowed not to separate. They packed one bag, “half his, half mine,” Jenina said, and fled their new home in Wuhan. When they arrived at the consulate, they were relieved to find a Polish diplomat with a visa for Jenina.
When they landed at a military base in Marseille, France, some passengers clapped, but many were simply too worn out. The pair moved across the tarmac to a small military plane that took off from France and descended through a foggy night to Poland. Police then escorted them to a military hospital in Wroclaw where they are starting a 14-day quarantine to make sure they are not contagious.
Arek is planning some kind of project with his photographs and the objects from their trip __ such as their medical bracelets for traveling and ear plugs used on the military flight. His hope is that it will prompt governments to develop stronger evacuation protocols for emergency events such as that still gripping Wuhan.