Going Through Shanghai’s Return Quarantine Procedures

By Jane 2020-03-23 13:50:43

As the rest of the world began to deal with the relentless spread of Covid-19, China had shown the importance of stricter measures to contain the disease. It had been seven weeks since I had left my life in Shanghai. Knowing that safe passage would be with trepidation, I set out for return to the city.

Sat on the tarmac, we were called by name to leave the plane with no seemingly obvious order. Before arrivals, the notion of what was to come hit us. Hazmat suits, face guards and rubber gloves sealed with tape walked along the line with QR codes. Hurdle one; no data. Fortunately, the kindness of one suit shared his for some temporary relief. Set against the backdrop of glowing Versace signs, the helpful volunteers and surreal nature of it all kept the crowd in good spirits.

After what seemed like a quarantine period in that queue, maybe 4 hours, some were sat at tables to check their health declarations, some of us sent through. Our passports now sported a coloured sticker with little explanation. The ease of the next few checks set up in the immigration area gave us hope. I beamed with relief as I walked between the luggage carousels and through the final doors. One more check; no problem. As the majority of folk began to turn right, I noticed their passports held green stickers. Me and the other yellow stickered folk were sent left.

Following the signs to my district, I am asked to sign a paper with a handwritten explanation of my choices. Government facility or home. A translation later and passport taken, the first fears set in, I choose home, meaning I was in for a trip to the hospital, a long (8-hour) wait for results and agreement that my front door might be sealed. My questions on how I might deal with deliveries were met with nervous laughter. A long and cold bus ride later along silent Shanghai streets, we arrive.

Now by hospital, they mean ‘testing facility’. An old sports hall with sectioned areas, blinding halogen lights, and deckchairs for beds. Clean and organised, it was a military operation. Relief came in the form of a duvet, water and a cupcake and glorious Wi-Fi. With mixed emotions filling the vast space, the tone was sombre and silent. At 2am, I’m called out for the test. Waiting in the freezing dead of night in a plastic gazebo I await my turn. A swab or two later, I look forward to the comfort of my deck chair.

10 hours pass. A kind but stressed face behind a mask ushers me up and towards a bus. With the help of others my questions are hesitantly answered. I think the test was negative and I think I’m going home. Several drop-offs later, the calm sun-lit streets of Shanghai come as a relief. But underneath it, you see the fear remains. Each person leaving the bus was subject to stares and camera phones. More hazmat suits and paperwork greet us. Arriving home, I’m surrounded by arguments, police, and the tears set in.

At my apartment door, several forms completed, all I wanted was a hot bath and my bed. With a discussion over the position of my door and the potential of being sent to a government facility, never before have my negotiating skills been more important. A few phone calls later and the ten or so people down my corridor begin to be satisfied with my quarantine. I’m given a thermometer, sterilising wipes and a spray for the rubbish. Webchats exchanged, I have three people checking in on me daily; a community support officer, someone from the authorities and another from the hospital.

So, as I sit here, a day into my Netflix binge, I am grateful for those keeping an eye out. Care packages from family and friends arrive, the neighbour coming and going, Webchats for temperature checks and a phone call from ‘John’; “Yes John, I’m still here – speak to you tomorrow”. John and I are going to become friends. The understanding and positivity of the volunteers is very comforting in these challenging times. As I see my home country struggle with the realities of COVID-19, China should be a guide from which other nations can learn. There are difficult months ahead for us all, and in the grand scheme of things, two weeks at home is nothing. It will be a story to tell someday.