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Countries Closing Their Borders: A Quick Decision to Get “Home”

March 15, 2020


Sharon (Pseudonym) and I arrived back in Shanghai yesterday morning, after a quick decision to return before it became difficult.

We travelled from Edinburgh and transited in Paris before on to Shanghai. In Edinburgh and Paris it was business as usual; no questions, no extra measures, nobody wearing masks. Until we got to the gate where we boarded the plane to Shanghai. Here the passengers were all masked up as were the crew. Masks were to be worn for the full 12-hour flight. Temperature checks were taken as we boarded, then again mid-flight and before landing. Blankets, pillows, headphones were not distributed due to containment measures. There was a seating area sectioned at the rear of the plane along with toilet facilities, for anyone who showed symptoms of COVID-19 during the flight. Before landing we completed paper and online health declarations.

On landing, we were held on the plane, and called off in batches. We stepped into a different world, where all airport staff were in body suits, masks, visors, gloves. The airport had been configured to create channels for passengers to move through with stops to revisit health forms, complete more information and do temperature checks. We then passed through immigration (which was super-quiet) before being guided to an area where we reported to a regional team. Again, more health declarations and information gathered before being escorted to pre-arranged pick-ups or to pre-arranged buses provided by the airport. During this process, we were awarded a sticker (green – yellow – red) which determined our next course of action. We were accompanied to a driver who was waiting for us, to continue our journey home.

When we arrived at our housing compound, we were greeted by a team of ten people, made up of a doctor, local health team and compound management. Again, health declarations and temperature checks, before being taken into our home and our quarantine commencing. As David (Pseudonym) lives in the house too, he has to undertake quarantine with us, or we would have been taken to a quarantine facility.

So, we are home now and will remain indoors for the next two weeks. We did an online shopping order which was delivered to the gates. Then the compound guards left it outside our door for us, texting us when it was clear for us to bring the goods inside.

There are two lenses to view this through: fear or safety.
Fear, due to the unpredictability of the situation, the rapidly changing climate and lack of control. I did have a couple of moments. One where I had one foot in the amusing rabbit hole of ‘This is what it probably felt like when trying to smuggle ET to his spaceship’, then the other of ‘What if Sharon and I get separated. How do I know where she may be? What would be happening/ what could be?’ The what-ifs were lurking, waiting to grab and sink their sharp little teeth in. Families were kept together through the process. There were staff available to speak different languages and although there was uncertainty, it was very efficient and organised.

This is a country where health is priority. Containment measures are put in place to ensure the health of all citizens. Social responsibility is empowered as we are required to put others first by undertaking quarantine, to avoid any possible contamination. Everyone is mobilised to do their part for the community. Do I feel scared? The unknown is always a little scary. Do I feel safe? Absolutely. I know that the virus is a priority and is being taken very seriously. The actions of the country reflect this.

If you are planning your return – some tips:
• Make sure you have your own headphones.
• Dress in layers – the plane was cold, the airport was hot.
• Have extra snacks and water with you so that you can keep the hanger away whist you wait to leave the plane/get home.
• Bring distractions for kids. Talk to them about how staff will be dressed in the airport and that there will be temp checks etc.
• Got to the toilet before you leave the plane. Facilities in the airport are on lock down.
• Carry wipes. It can get hot and a little uncomfortable in the heat as you wait.
• Do an online shop that can get delivered as you arrive home.
• If you do not have a thermometer at home, buy one before you return. You will need to report your temp if in quarantine.
• Be mentally prepared for quarantine, either at home or in a facility, and pack a few treats to help you through it all.

Safe travels…and stay positive! If you are alone, keep in touch with someone in Shanghai and don’t be afraid to reach out as you go through the process! A reassuring text is enough to keep you calm.

This article was submitted by an ISC member living in Shanghai, China