Prisoners of the Pandemic: Australind’s Jessica Xie
When the clock struck midnight on January 23, China’s Hubei province — the alleged root of the coronavirus pandemic — went into lockdown. Trapped inside was one of our own — a traumatised 14-year-old Australind girl.
What was supposed to be a short stint in her Motherland turned into a haunting six months of hell.
Jessica Xie was visiting her sick grandparents in Yichang, which is a four-hour drive from Wuhan, when the disaster detonated.
The Australind Senior High School student boarded a plane from Perth after the 2019 school year — before travel was forbidden and wearing a mask was the norm.
On the way over, she had a calm journey considering she was just a solo-travelling teenager navigating her way through bustling airports and crowded baggage carousels.
Little did she know that the next time she would come face-to-face with the international boarding gates, they would be as empty as a fuel tank after a road trip.
Travelling home presented Jessica with an increased risk of contracting the virus, with airports a known breeding ground for COVID-19.
When Jessica stepped foot into the coronavirus minefield, she vowed not to drop her guard.
“I was so paranoid,” Jessica said.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t touch my face on the plane, at all costs because I knew I could not risk it.
Jessica said there was a huge likelihood that her application to travel would be declined mid-journey, due to the changing restrictions.
“It just did not feel real,” she said. “I thought that at any moment I would be sent back to Yichang, especially because I was a minor travelling alone.”
Although sommersaulting through airport checkpoints and country guidelines was challenging, Jessica admitted that the true struggle was battling to remain sane during the lockdown period.
“I really struggled with my mental health,” Jessica said.
I could speak Chinese with my grandparents, but I could only say practical things like what I was eating or doing. I could not explain to them how I was feeling and that was really tough.
Jessica’s mum Anna Moulton said she was worried about her daughter.
I knew she wouldn’t go hungry because my parents are good cooks, but I missed her so much and I just wanted her in my arms again.
Mrs Moulton tried to get her daughter home, however, Jessica did not make the Australian emergency flight out of China.
The anxiety-filled mother remained proactive, enrolled her daughter into online schooling, sent her a treadmill and was a beacon of hope throughout the ordeal.
To pass the time in her Chinese prison-like flat, Jessica made art to raise money for a nearby hospital that had been inundated with COVID-19 patients.
It comes as no surprise that on returning to Australia, Jessica was accepted into the Visual Arts Specialist Program (VASP) at Bunbury Senior High School.
I am so excited to have a fresh start at a new school.
Jessica recalled being escorted out of the airport by a police officer last month.
“I saw my mum and I just wanted to give her a hug, but the police officer said it wasn’t allowed because of social distancing restrictions,” she said.
Jessica and her mum underwent a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in Australind and said they were hoping to bring a sense of normality back into their lives.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails