I recently returned to China where I have a China based engineering firm, and as is the process due to COVID-19, I am currently quarantined for the next 14 days in Shanghai. This is not the USA “self-quarantine” process that some may have experienced while traveling in the United States the past few months, where you are encouraged to stay put for 14 days after arriving. This is the PRC quarantine, enforced, restricted, and monitored 24/7 protocol.
The process for entrance into China begins the week before departure, with you obtaining a negative COVID-19 Nucleic acid test results. Depending on where you live, and how quickly test results can be returned, you may want to take more than one test, at more than one location, just to ensure you have results that are valid for entry (must be within 5 days of arrival). Make sure to consider that your plane may be delayed, so getting your negative test as close as possible to departure is crucial. The last thing you are going to want to hear after being in and out of airports for 20+ hours is that your COVID test that would have been valid if your plane was on time, is no longer valid.
On arrival the real journey begins! After an 18.5 hour flight, you depart the plane and almost immediately and have your temperature taken. If your temperature happens to be high this is a bad sign as you will most likely end up on a return flight immediately or brought to a quarantine hospital to ensure you are not infected with COVID-19. This will be by far the easiest part of the journey. Next your information is checked via a WeChat barcode. This is to confirm your health information is accurate and up to date. It will be done over WeChat so make sure to have WeChat installed on your phone before leaving for China! (Note: Depending on when you are departing for China, WeChat may no longer be available in the App Store in the United States, you should be able to download while at a layover, or on the plane.) The next hurdle will be your interview questionnaire. Forewarning, your interview questionnaire will be in Chinese, and not in English, so if you cannot read Chinese it will be best to see if you can find advanced paperwork, or utilize an app such as Google lens to translate the page through your phone. Customs officials will also collect the hard copies of your health information at this time to review again before allowing clearance. Afterwards your paperwork is checked one last time, you are given a COVID test before you are broken into groups to be shuttled to a randomly selected quarantine hotel. The COVID test administered here will be more similar to the COVID test you may have received back between March and June than one you may have received recently and is much more of nose probing than swabbing. After you are cleared through customs you and your fellow passengers are broken up into randomly assigned groups to head to your randomly assigned quarantine hotel.
Once you are finally at your hotel you are held in a secluded parking area and isolated as luggage is sprayed and sanitized as your documents and temperature are checked again. At the end they take your credit card and all 14 days are paid up front, this will cost you about 400 yuan a night, or about $700 USD total. I have not heard what happens if your card bounces, or you cannot cover the charge, but rest assured that best case you will find yourself on a plane back to your country of origin in a short period of time! After your payment is processed, you are brought to your room by the medical team, have your temperature check one last time, and for me it was good night 5 am. It was about 28 hours between departing my airport of origin and getting into the hotel room! Thankfully I had multiple powerblocks on me for the wait.
Be prepared to experience what would be about a 2-star hotel in the United States. Fortunately, it is the first 2 star hotel I have ever stayed at that is all inclusive! The hotel will take care of all food and drink while you are there. Relative to the quarantine facility that I was sent to it is clean, efficient, with a very small room and unfortunately a TV with only 1 channel in English (China Global). So thankfully there is something to watch, although it is mostly news and escaping from the news in the US was something I was hoping to do for a few weeks while in. Although given that we have not been able to travel in some months, being able to watch some Chinese programming may give you an excuse to brush up on your Mandarin before having to interact with anyone in person.
Pictured: Where I wish I was staying...
Unlike in the US, you are not allowed to leave your room under any circumstances. Not for fresh air, not to stretch or for exercise, not for any reason. The only time you will see other people will be when your temperature is taken twice a day (and recorded via WeChat) and when your food is delivered (The Food is one my one big issue!). Full 14 days, night and day, temperature 2 times per day, recorded on application on WeChat, without WeChat you’re done, before leaving you are given another covid test before release. I would just like to note, once you are in quarantine, when they say you are not allowed to leave, they are serious when they say for no reason are you permitted to leave. Even in the case of an emergency, where you would have to leave the country, you will still have to stay for the entirety of the 14 day quarantine.
But I do not want to make it sound like it is too bad! You do have good cell service, so you will be able to call or video call people at home and abroad. There is also WiFi so you will have access to your email and be able to browse the web. Unfortunately it is not good enough for streaming services but neither is the WiFi in most hotels in the states so that should not be disappointing. It is also very clean, which when traveling internationally can always be a scary thing when staying in unfamiliar hotels. And most importantly, due to the stringent rules in place you will feel safe and will not worry about potentially catching the coronavirus while there.
To say the process is rigorous is an understatement. I will say this, the personnel processing you are professional and polite. They do their best and help as much as they can but as it is in China the process is the process and no there are no exceptions. It would be good to remember that we are in the midst of a pandemic, and the people working to process you in are not only focused on protecting themselves, but their friends and family. Best advice keep you sense of humor or you will end up going to a dark place and on flight back home.
Now relative to food, this is an issue. For me, normally, I will make sure to have a big dinner the night before traveling, and a decent size breakfast if time permits. It will be the last taste of US food for a while, and no one wants to risk getting food poisoning in the airport (especially when getting onto an 18 hour flight!). Most of my sense of dread when entering quarantine was due to my concern about food! This fear was realized, it is horrible, no Peking Duck here. It’s congee in the morning, rice, some type of vegetable, some type of protein (reminded me of school lunch. Mystery meat it is!), and for dinner again rice, some type of vegetable, and 3 pieces(bites) of meat, or chicken. These meals are packaged and sealed and may be warm or cold depending on delivery time to your door. You are allowed at that time to only open your door to retrieve your food. I get it. folks are doing their best, and I try to understand after coming to China over the last 20 plus years, however getting the same thing every day coupled with the sub quality just amplifies the dread of the quarantine ordeal.
Fortunately, I had packed some Meal2Go for the trip. When I started as an investor with Sneakz 5 years ago the lack of quality, organic, safe food that was available while traveling was one of the big reasons it seemed like a great idea. I had been traveling with meal replacement powders to replace meals at airports and to supplement “questionable” meals I have had to skip for years but none seemed truly healthy or organic. Having a product like Meal2Go to insure I can maintain my energy levels (16 grams of protein!) along with helping my immune system (especially here where I am not getting any Vitamin D) is critical for me when I travel. The vitamin, minerals, probiotics, and ashwagandha also seem to lessen the effects of Jetlag and general “travel sickness” when traveling for long periods of time. Avoiding getting ill on the road is a must, I have been to China’s medical facilities a couple times, and they are very good, but I do not recommend it unless you want to stress test your mandarin language skills.
I want to stress I am not an ultra-health focused individual. I work out a little, try to eat right, well, and want to feel good. At 67 I do what I can be healthier, but I will not walk by an ice cream stand or pass on a Popeyes chicken sandwich During quarantine, since oat milk was not available, I mixed with slim milk(local), and with a little yogurt, with Meal2Go.
End of day the China quarantine was a bit of an ordeal, but one does what one must and as a side benefit, I lost 12 lbs. which for me was a good thing!
For now, I am looking forward to getting out of quarantine and having some Shanghai dumplings, Duck, real fried rice and my favorite, Hot and Sour soup (the best).
Everyone stay well, stay safe, and stay healthy!
- Jim Costa
Up date: Recently in China, last week, there was a outbreak of 14 Covid cases in Qingdao, population 9 million. this was a result more then likely due to Fall Festival holiday travelers of about 4 million coming to, what I think, is one of the most beautiful areas to visit when coming to China. As a result of this small outbreak, in just about 8 days China authorities tested over 10 million people residents of Qingdao and visitors, just a incredible effort. This reflects how serious Covid is taken here in China and how well organized, and tooled the administration is to execute so quickly. Remember, this was done because they had 14 cases, not 50,000. Congratulations to all the people in the Qingdao area, medical teams, administrators, and authorities for doing just a outstanding job. You guys should be extremely proud. well done.