Forced Quarantine in Mongolia: An Interview w/ Bolor

Please introduce yourself

I am from Mongolia. I have studied and lived in Germany for 2 years. Currently I am working in my home country. Since my flight back home was very spontaneous, also from Mexico with transition in Germany, I didn’t manage to get all my stuff here. That is why I decided to fly to Germany to take my books, clothes and meet friends one last time for some time.  

Where & when exactly are you answering these questions from?

Today is 15th of March 2020. I am in a quarantine at National Center of Communicable Disease (NCCD) of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar city.

Can you describe the chain of events that led you to being in this current situation?

On Tuesday, 10th of March, around 08:45 in the morning my mom called me and asked where I was and if I had seen the news. I was getting ready to go to my work. I immediately went to Facebook (this is the most popular news source in Mongolia) and saw the post from the news page saying: “A citizen of France who arrived in Mongolia on 2nd of March via Moscow-Ulaanbaatar SU330 flight was diagnosed positive to COVID-19…”. It meant that this was the very first and (so far)-only case in Mongolia, and also that I was on the same plane with the French guy all 6 hours of the flight. Just after I saw the news, I got a call from the criminal department of the Mongolian Police. They asked me to go to NCCD to give analysis for the COVID-19 immediately where I was expected.

When I arrived at NCCD, a nurse in a protection garment came out and asked why we were here and who brought us here. I explained the whole situation, she seemed surprised and claimed that we were definitely going to be put in isolation. While talking she brought us to the second floor, I realized that I was going to stay here for a while that day. She showed me a room and asked to enter.

I don’t remember the moment I was entering the room because I was eager to charge my phone and call my brother who got on the plane to go to his work camp just an hour before I got my first call from the police. I hoped he had not taken off from Ulaanbaatar so that he could stay in the city and not get quarantined somewhere else where there was no facility… It was too late, my brother already landed in another city, they took him for isolation there, and all the 80-something people in the plane were asked to quarantine themselves in their camp rooms. Same happened with my parents in my hometown. My mom was taken to the isolation hospital from work, and my dad was escorted from home to the same hospital.

Around 11 am, they told us that we were going to be quarantined at NCCD for some time. Because I was not ready to get quarantined, I did not take anything with me. Luckily, I had my phone charger, kindle and thermos with hot water. I did not get a clear answer to my question when they were going to take samples to test us. This was frustrating because I hoped I would have been released if I was diagnosed negative. Later on, it was not even clear if I was going to get tested or not.

Since my family was locked down, my cousin helped me to bring my things and some basic hygiene supplies for a few days. We were given lunch at NCCD in our room by 1 pm. Again, there was no information about when I was going to be tested.

By 5 pm, both my parents and brother already gave their samples for the COVID-19. And only around 9 pm, they took samples from me with some more additional blood tests.

How is your current health and how is the general health status of others in the quarantine facility?

On the 11th of March, my parents were tested negative for the coronavirus. I did not get my personal result. However, in the news NCCD announced that all suspects who were on the plane were tested negative. Nurses did not have any further information than we did. So we were told to stay in quarantine for unknown time. Every morning and evening they note down my body temperature, hearth rate, and oxygen level.

(Editor’s note: As of April 8th, there are 15 confirmed cases in Mongolia with 11 confirmed recoveries)

The French citizen is going through treatment at NCCD as well. Since 13th March, there was no official report on his health status. The latest news says his mental health is not stable due to stigma around him. There were a few locals and foreign expats living in Mongolia who supported the French guy, but the general atmosphere in the country was negative towards him. He was blamed for bringing the virus in the country and traveling within the country instead of doing 14 days self-quarantine after his arrival. He agreed to get treatment in Mongolia and expressed his hope and trust in Mongolian doctors.

What kind of information have you been given by the officials who are managing the facility?

As I stated before, I haven’t received official confirmation from the hospital that I, Bolor Dorjderem, was tested negative. Neither the results of 3 blood tests nor 1 urine test were shown to me. I was told that I would see them when I leave the hospital. I don’t receive any information at the hospital, at NCCD.

What are the conditions like in the facility that you are in?

I don’t know how many rooms or floors in the facility. I myself stay in one small room with a window, bathroom, toilet, fridge, beds, and small storage boxes. We have all the basics to live. I would say the conditions are better than in other facilities. We are given food 3 times per day. We ask nurses for water every time we need. They supply us with soap, sanitizer, mouth wash and vitamin C. I have one roommate who was also on the same flight. Our isolation rooms are locked from outside. Food is given through some special glass compartment.

I don’t feel comfortable with the aeration situation. We could not open the window for the first 4 days because it was sealed. After breaking the seal in order to open the window, I could not sleep in the night because it was too cold.

I’m sure many friends and family have reached out to you in the past few days, what kind of questions or messages have you been receiving from people who are curious about your situation?

I started getting messages already when I travelled to Belgium and Germany in mid-February. They were surprised how brave I was to fly there just to have vacation, and if I was being discriminated against. Some would say, to take care, be careful and avoid crowded places.

After I got isolated, most people were reaching me out of curiosity. I received calls from a person with whom I haven’t talked for many years or even a decade. I understand their curiosity. But from the very beginning of this coronavirus story, I tried to eliminate all the discussions, public panic, social media content from my daily life. Therefore, I was a bit bothered with the messages. But after the quarantine I started answering them because local news were not saying full picture what was going down here and most people were seeing us as threat rather than people going through standard procedure.

Is there anything you would like to say to those who are curious?

My brother on 10th of March informed me about the rumours on social media that I was working as a translator to the French guy. Therefore, since I was isolated, people started making rumours that I must have the virus, so does my family. On the local evening news, they reported that the translator lady was from Erdenet, and my people in my hometown were convinced it was me. On 10th of March Facebook was exploding with such fake news, for instance, he apparently had affairs with 2 Mongolian women in Ulaanbaatar. So, I started getting calls/messages: “what did you do exactly with that guy?”

All this fake news was officially denied.

It is very common that people in my country don’t double check what they read or hear. Based on the rumours, people often change their attitude and behaviour towards others. This was the most stressful moment for me and for my family. I personally did not take quarantine itself that negatively. For me and for my family, it was a standard procedure to follow. It was never a reason to be embarrassed. But for public it was a reason to avoid us and blame me for being irresponsible and flying to Europe during the virus outbreak.

How are you feeling emotionally at the moment?

Compared to the first days, I feel fine in terms of the fake news. Especially after the official announcement and implementation of penalty measures for spreading fake news or offensive content. First 2 days, I was constantly angry, and my friends could see it on social media, I guess.

I try not to add to common virus panic by actively telling that I should have been released from the moment I got my test result. I believe the government wants me to stay here till 16th (14 days since I was on the plane). However, other people who were on the same plane are doing self-quarantine at their homes. For me such management does not make sense. I feel desperate going back home but I try not to make panic out of it. My plan would be to wait till the official end date of the quarantine and then start complaining if they don’t let me go. 

Do you have any sort of routine or activity to do to help you relax, stay busy or stay sane?

Ironically, I got isolated on my 2nd day of my new job. So, I don’t have much work to do. I was reading most of the day till my kindle ran out of battery. Maybe it is hard to believe, but the longest (duration wise) activity I do here is talking on the phone. In the morning or in the evening, depending on time difference, I make phone, video calls with my friends for 1-2 hours. To some, I describe how it is here, and some try to encourage me and share their stories of how their countries try to tackle COVID-19.

What can people do to either give aid to or just mentally support those in forced quarantine situations?

Do not talk about the fake news you heard on random websites/Facebook. When people were asking me every time they called, I was getting angrier and worried. It made me feel like this news was really getting spread. It also could be that, it was not a big deal, but just because people kept asking made me feel like this was the top news of the day.

If you are not in the same country.

When I received a message from a girl that I have seen only once in my life saying, “I am here if you need to talk to someone”. That was very touching and supportive. My friends who are not in Mongolia sent me audiobooks and kindle books which was very nice. Just asking how they can help is much better rather than asking what happened. People have different needs and types of support. For me it was helpful, when my friends made some time to talk with me on the phone (better video call ☺).

If you are in the same country/city.

Ask if the person needs something brought from outside. When you are in quarantine, it means you cannot leave the place. And especially, in my case, I was not informed, therefore, I was not prepared to get stuck at NCCD for unknown amount of time. Since my family was locked down in different locations, I didn’t have many people who could help me get some stuff from outside, like toilet paper, kindle charger, laptop, headphones, some food/snacks, clothes, sanitary products. Asking many times my closest friend/cousin made me feel a bit guilty, so I hesitated to ask again and again.

I know this is quite early to ask but has this strange experience taught you anything or are there any positives that you have taken away from this time?

I think I can’t tell much about what I learnt here so far. However, I realized that I have so many friends who really care about me. Regardless the distance and time difference, I felt super supported and important. I felt thankful to my parents who did not mention the fake news panic at all. They knew all the rumors but did not focus on that and were talking to me like on normal days.

If you wonder, what happened with me, if I was released and came back to normal life, here are some updates. The following notes were written on 3rd of April 2020.

It has been 2 weeks since I have been released from the isolation facility. I immediately started working from the next day. I often feel that people are afraid that I still might have the virus therefore, I feel obliged to wear masks everywhere. Regardless of me, you can not enter any building without a mask.

We have 14 infected cases and 2 recovered in Mongolia by today. Cases are being detected only from citizens coming from abroad. These numbers seem amazing! It feels like we are the most successful country dealing with the spread of COVID19 in the country. All the flights are still on hold (except charter flights), only cars/trains are allowed to enter the country for supply. Everyone coming with charter flights are obliged to quarantine themselves at the hospitals and isolation center. All of them are paying for their stay in these facilities. Public places are still closed, however bars, restaurants and shops work till 10 pm.

Stay safe. Also, stay positive 😊

My name is Bolor. I just graduated my master’s program in Germany. I am starting my career in the environmental due diligence field in a water engineering group. I recently came back to Mongolia to settle down here for a few years. Obsessed with finding the perfect apartment to furnish, decorate and feel homey in my home country, finally.

Bolor Contributed: Travel and Study, Busy in Mexico

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