Arriving in China During the Pandemic
- Shane Goulding
Back in March, I was attending some job fairs in Australia and the situation with COVID-19 escalated very quickly. I tried to return to China but the first two flights were cancelled and I was booked on a third to leave a week later but before that day, China temporarily closed its border to foreign ID holders. I found myself stuck. After about five months of uncertainty of when I could return to China, finally there was an opportunity.
ENREACH applied for a special Invitation Letter (PU) for me and two weeks later the letter was in my hand. Although the China Visa Application Service Centre in Sydney had a note on the website saying it was “closed until further notice” there was a number to call for further information about visa applications. I called and a very lovely lady answered and talked me though the process. I had to email copies of my passport information page, last visa, application forms and the PU letter to an address she gave me. She said 3-4 days later I would receive notice that the application was accepted and forwarded to the consulate or that there was an issue with the application and it would need to be resubmitted. Once accepted, I would get a call with a time and date to apply in person. So, I applied by email on 19 August and received a reply the next day saying it was accepted. I then got a phone call on 01 September and applied in person with my passport at 9am on 04 September. I then flew out on 09 September.
I read a lot of different blogs and posts about reentering China which helped. However, it was a lot smoother than I thought it was going to be. The most stressful part was before getting on the plane with the wait and not knowing how long the PU application would take, the visa application, checking in at the airport and finally getting government approval to leave (as Australians can not leave without Australian Border Force approval).
I arrived at the airport, got my travel exemption from Australian Border Force (which was a surprise as on the website it said if you normally lived overseas you did not need this but then was not allowed to check-in without one. No drama though as they allowed this at the airport by checking entry and exit details), went through security and immigration and then had a coffee before departure. While waiting, I scanned a QR code in WeChat and filled in the China customs and health declaration and received a QR code and took a screen shot of this. At check-in, everyone is told to do this before boarding the plane. At boarding, they check you have the QR code and then scan your boarding pass for you to board. This really sped up the process after arriving in Shanghai.
The flight itself was as expected. A little boxed meal and drink on each seat already when you boarded and many passengers wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE). The only requirement was to wear a face mask but some also wore face shields and the full suit. The airline staff were wearing full PPE though. Movement was not restricted in the cabin at all but the only time anyone moved was to go to the bathroom. Even this was minimal though. The two people next to me did not eat or drink anything during the whole flight. I suspect they did not want to remove their masks or go to use the bathroom. But again, there was no restriction of movement or use of the bathroom. There was also not much talking. It was quiet. Anyway, after what was a very pleasant flight, 10.5 hours later we landed in Shanghai.
The process after arrival was quite impressive. An hour after landing I was sitting and waiting for a bus to the hotel for quarantine.
First, there was a bit of a wait as passengers were let off in waves of about fifty. I entered the terminal as normal and first stop was another check to make sure you had received the QR code after completing the customs and health declaration. This was the same code they checked before departure (again, you just need to take a screen shot once you completed it before boarding). I was given a declaration to sign to say I would comply with bodily samples to be taken.
Second, there was a sit down with a customs and health official. They scanned the QR code and looked at all the answers provided on their handheld device. They just went through and confirmed where I travelled from, if it was a direct flight, where I was the 14 days before, if I had been to any clubs, hotspots, if I had any symptoms now or in the last 14 days, if I knew anyone who had been ill and so on. After getting the okay, I moved along the line. Someone then stuck a barcode with details on my declaration and gave me a sealed test tube with the same barcode for the sample. Down the escalator and around the corner, I was about fourth in line to have the nasal swab for the Covid-19 test. The person taking the sample from me did not speak English but she has a card and pointed to questions in English which required a yes or no answer. She signaled to look into the light and then took samples from each nostril. It was not painful, just a little uncomfortable and made my eyes water. It only took about 90 seconds in total to answer her questions, and prepare and take the samples.
After that, each arriving passenger goes through a heat sensor to have their temperature taken one by one, handing over the declaration with barcode. After that, it is immigration and luggage collection as per normal. Well, normal apart from all staff at the airport being in full PPE and needing to remove your face mask loop from an ear so you can present to immigration and have your photo taken.
Each passenger had their check in luggage x-rayed and then could exit into the arrival hall. Right at the exit there were two options, left and right. Someone was there to assist but there were two choices, left for those who reside outside of Shanghai and right for those who reside in Shanghai. I went right and followed the very clearly marked path, again, with workers in PPE to assist along the way if needed.
The last step was finding the allocated district for quarantine. You need to go to the marked section for the district in which you live. There were a lot of people helping all the arriving passengers, which was nice. Just before reaching the final step, each passenger needed to again scan a QR code in WeChat and fill in an ‘Airport Inbound Passenger Information Card’. Just your name, passport number, date of birth, phone number, address, where you travelled from etc. were needed. Again, I took a screen shot of this and then proceeded to the desk of the district I live in. They scanned the code, took my passport (which I got back once on the bus) signed one last declaration and then just waited until the bus arrived.
All of this took just an hour. The longest part for me was then the almost four hour wait until the bus came. I was told in advance the bus would not leave until 12:30 (four hours later) but no sooner had I sat down people from some districts started to board busses. There were just four on my bus and it appeared it was the last of the 18 districts/counties of Shanghai to leave the airport. So, 4 hours seems like maybe the extreme. At any rate, five hours from landing to being on a bus I thought was pretty good.
Once at the hotel, there were a few forms to fill in, all with similar details and then payment for the room. It was 400 RMB per day (320 RMB per day for the room plus 80 RMB for food), so 5600 RMB in total. I got a little pack with a thermometer, instructions on how and when to report my temperature twice each day, about getting food and water delivered and a declaration to sign to say I would not smoke in the room. I was then able to go to the room.
It seems there are rather large difference between hotels and also how each district runs the hotels, if you are allowed delivery, what you can get delivered and so on. However, essentially, you just have to stay in your room, take your temperature at set times and report it, and all your meals are delivered outside your door. Once you have finished, you seal the bag together with any rubbish and leave it outside the door. The staff at the airport, checking in for the bus to the hotel and on arrival at the hotel were all very nice and patient. Again, it was smooth and quite quick. Obviously, it will be nice to get back to the pre COVID-19 travel days but if you have essential travel now, it is certainly manageable.