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Hotel manager stays put in Chongqing

By Tan Yingzi in Chongqing | China Daily | Updated: 2020-03-24 10:01
Sharon Fraser. [Photo/China Daily]

New Zealander Sharon Fraser had a Spring Festival holiday in China that was … well, unusual. The coronavirus epidemic had changed everything, and it led her to make a choice that many people would not.

In the past, Fraser, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Chongqing Jiefangbei hotel in Chongqing, would spend the long holiday at the hotel organizing events and serving many guests from around the world.

This year was different: Rather than planning events, she chose to remain at the hotel during the epidemic to focus on ensuring the safety of her staff and only about a dozen long-term foreign guests.

"In early January, our hotel was fully booked, as usual, for the coming Spring Festival, and we were busy preparing for the peak season," Fraser told China Daily in her hotel's cafe recently.

"Suddenly, we started to get a lot of cancellations, especially after Jan 21. It happened very fast."

After hearing the news about the novel coronavirus, Fraser was determined to stay in Chongqing to look after the staff and guests and help hold down the costs of hotel operations even though her home country had advised its nationals in China to return.

Chongqing, a city of 30 million people, was facing a serious threat given its close transport links with Wuhan in neighboring Hubei province.

"I haven't felt unsafe here, and I have complete trust in the Chinese government," she said.

"Overseas media played up the epidemic situation in China, so lots of people outside China are worried about me. I keep telling them it's actually OK."

Fraser and her colleagues strove to get enough masks to keep their employees safe.

Meanwhile, the hotel also closed most floors and managed core operations and services with a skeleton crew of 20.

So far, there are no infected cases in the hotel.

In addition to daily checks of the building, Fraser maintained frequent communication with her staff in a WeChat group and organized several online activities to boost their morale, such as karaoke matches and daily Smile Behind the Mask competitions.

"Many young staff members live by themselves in Chongqing, and I worry they'll feel isolated at home during the lockdown," she said.

After living in Beijing and Shanghai, Fraser moved to Chongqing in 2011 and fit in comfortably.

"I did a lot of things that I had little time to do in the past, such as reading, cleaning, going through old things and talking with family and friends," she said.

On some good days during the outbreak, she would walk around the downtown area near her hotel, as well as along the Jialing River.

She often checked the supermarkets and found them full of fresh meat, with plenty of vegetables and fruit on the shelves.

She took pictures of the empty streets, bridges and people fishing and swimming in the river, capturing special moments in the city and sharing them on social media.

"I saw a man fishing by the river with no one within 100 meters and I thought, he doesn't have to wear a mask anymore," she said.

"But when he turned to me, I saw the mask on his face. Chinese people are really disciplined."

The novel coronavirus epidemic has basically been curbed in the country, according to officials, and Fraser's hotel was approved on March 3 to resume business.

"China did a really fantastic job, and other countries can learn from it," she said.

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