After a wonderful trip to Canada, where we got to see friends, family and so much of what we missed, we headed back to China, where COVID is treated like ebola, and where measures often don’t make sense and seem in excess. The trip back was a nightmare, especially at Pudong airport, where we queued and walked kilometers across the airport, going from one check point to the next. By comparison, quarantine wasn’t actually as bad.
When we booked our trip, back in March, we knew it meant 2 weeks of hotel quarantine, followed by 2 weeks of home quarantine. We booked our tickets knowing this, but were very relieved in June, when we learned that the government was reducing this time to 7 days in a hotel + 3 at home. With Omicron having a shorter incubation period than previous strains of COVID 19, the government finally loosened up a bit.
Now, I should start by saying that I’m not actually opposed to the mandatory quarantine imposed on people coming into China. With such a dense population, it is very easy for case numbers to grow very quickly, overwhelming hospitals, and leading to a lot of deaths. I believe in protecting the vulnerable, and I know I would feel AWFUL if I caused an outbreak by unknowingly spreading COVID.
Still…I can say, some of it was pretty ridiculous, but hey, it makes for good reading, so at least I can blog about the experience!
The current quarantine regulations for people entering China involve 7 days in a hotel + 3 at home. It can vary a little for residents of cities close to Shanghai (like Suzhou), because Shanghai simply can’t handle that many people quarantining all at once, for 7 days. So, our Quarantine was actually broken down into 3 parts instead of 2.
- Part 1: A hotel in Shanghai
- Part 2: A hotel in Suzhou
- Part 3: Home quarantine in Suzhou
Now, I should begin by explaining that you get 0 say in which hotel you’ll be sent to, and wherever you end up, you have to pay for your room, regardless of the price. Couples are not allowed to quarantine together either, doubling the already inflated costs of these rooms. This was a pretty scary reality for us, but we hadn’t been home in 3 years, so we decided to just hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.
We had heard of some people in Xiamen having to spend $300 Canadian per night, per person. There are currently 7 days of mandatory hotel quarantine (+3 at home), which could have ended up costing us $4200 CAD if we’d landed ourselves in one of the expensive boarding facilities. This was on top of inflated flight prices and the $700 we spent on tests before we could even board the plane. Again… we would have had virtually no say in it if we ended up somewhere that was charging $300 per night.
Fortunately, the bus that transported us from Pudong Airport brought us to the Mercure Hotel, which was far more reasonable than the ones we had heard of in Xiamen. Still, we had no idea what we’d be paying until we reached that check in room, and they charged our debit accounts.
Part 1 of our quarantine cost us a total of $720 Canadian. The fees included our daily testing and meals, but was still quite a bit more than we would usually spend on a hotel in Shanghai. In a typical situation, we would spend about $250 to stay there for 3 nights. Still, the hotel was nice, and we had desks to work at, so we were relieved with the situation.
Part 2 of our quarantine was in Suzhou. We stayed at an older hotel there, located on Yangcheng lake, where Suzhou’s famous hairy crabs live. This hotel wasn’t quite as nice as the one in Shanghai, but the rooms were much bigger. Plus, the situation was much better for us in Suzhou because I managed to get a note from my doctor that enabled Dave and I to stay together in the same room. You can get doctor’s notes for a few things; in my case, it was for anxiety (turns out being cooped up alone for days is bad for the mental health.. who knew!?)
This meant that we still had to pay double for food, but we were only charged the cost of 1 room, instead of 2. Our Quarantine hotel in Suzhou came to $464 Canadian, which was a big relief. Our total cost of hotel quarantine came to just under $1200 CAD, which is a LOT better than we had actually expected to pay when we booked our trip to Canada.
Part 3 of quarantine is done at home. Of course, home quarantine is still supposed to be done solo, and without my doctor’s note, 1 of us would have had to stay in the hotel for those last 3 nights. Many people in Shanghai actually can’t do home quarantine at all, because it’s up to the compounds on whether or not they’ll allow it. Lucky for us, our compound was fine with it (thanks to my doctor’s note), and even let us order in groceries. We couldn’t go outside and we were only allowed to open our door for deliveries, but at least we were home!!
Once you are brought to your room, you close the door, and are only allowed to open it again for testing (once per day) & to get your food (3 times per day). If extra necessities need to be delivered (my first thermometer didn’t work, for example), they are left on the table outside of your room, and you can pick it up when you get your next meal.
There are monitors on every door, so if you decide to open it when you shouldn’t, hotel staff know. There are also cameras in all the halls. It’s all very strict and I’m sure it wouldn’t be pleasant if someone were to break the rules. We all had to sign contracts on arrival, stating that we would abide by all government laws and COVID protection measures.
Day 1 wasn’t actually too bad. I was so relieved to be done with the airport fiasco, and sitting in an air conditioned room, with access to plenty of water… it was honestly a relief! Of course, I kept busy by reading, getting a bit of work done, and by messaging my friends to let them know we landed safely.
Day 2 was more of the same. I journaled, blogged, read…. anything to stay busy. By day 3 though, I was like a tiger in a cage… Pacing my room, stretching, exercising and basically just doing anything that requires movement. There was just enough room for me to walk around my bed, so I spent a lot of my day doing exactly that.
When you’re alone that much, you have a lot of time to think. Our dear cat, Ollie, died while we were in Canada. Of course, I thought about this a lot. Also, many of our friends moved away in June, having put up with enough of the restrictions…I thought about that a lot too. It’s difficult to be positive when you’re alone, anxious, and worrying about all the lock downs that will likely be happening during our last year in China.
I called my doctor on day 3, and got the note that allowed me to be with Dave for the rest of our quarantine. 3 days alone was bad enough…10 would have been unbearable for me.
When you’re trapped in your room, unable to go out or even open the door outside of meal time, food become a really important part of your day. Even though I wasn’t really looking forward to EATING the food, it was something to break up the monotony, so I looked forward to each meal regardless of what they served.
Just as our 2nd hotel stay was coming to an end, we got a message from a government official in Suzhou, informing us that Dave had been flagged as a close contact to someone who tested positive on our flight. We were given an extra day of mandatory quarantine, and were required to do blood tests “just to be safe”. The woman who had been sitting next to Dave was also flagged as a close contact, but as a resident of Shanghai, she wasn’t given extra time in quarantine and didn’t need to do blood work. As is often the case, Suzhou was just slapping on extra measures.
Of course, there’s nothing we could do about it, so we did our extra day in quarantine, did the blood tests, and looked forward to being able to go home.
The (Extra) Strange Stuff
On our last morning at the hotel in Suzhou, they came to do throat swabs, as usual, and then handed us half a dozen wet swabs, with a sign explaining that we were supposed to test various areas of the room, and then give them back the swabs for analysis. Keep in mind that this was after we had already had 12 COVID negative tests and had no symptoms.
For some reason, when we left our hotel in Shanghai, we were made to put on latex gloves for the bus ride and trip to the hotel. This is still a mystery to me. We already had 7 negative tests at this point, and it definitely felt like more theatrics.
Ok, this one sort of made sense to me. Bleach kills viruses, so of course you should find it in a quarantine hotel. The abundance of bleach was extreme though. All our luggage was sprayed down with it upon our arrival to the Suzhou hotel. At other hotels, they were DRENCHING people’s luggage with the stuff.
The bleach is also never actually wiped off, just sprayed on, layer after layer. The buses, hallways and hotels were covered in residue. The halls in our Suzhou hotel had carpet, and therefore covered with tarps and plastic… Which were also coated in bleach. It made everything look kind of gross.
At the Shanghai hotel, we were allowed to order things online, even coffee from Starbucks. We could order food and really whatever we wanted, as long as we only opened our door to receive them at meal time. In Suzhou, however, we could only receive things if family members or friends dropped them off. No food was allowed, and anything that came in had to be left overnight in a special room, and…. You guessed it…sprayed with bleach. Furthermore, our hotel would only deliver these things on Wednesdays and Sundays. We arrived on a Wednesday and left on a Sunday, so even if we wanted to, we couldn’t have had anything dropped off.
Every hotel has its own rules. Last year, when a friend of mine was quarantined after being in a high risk area, I was able to bring her cake from Starbucks, yogurt, fruit and bread. As long as it wasn’t home made, it was fine. Every hotel makes up their own rules, and once more, we were left feeling like it was far more about theatrics than safety.
So… That was our quarantine experience. Overall it wasn’t too bad. I do have to mention that the staff at both our hotels were VERY kind and helpful. The rooms were also very clean and comfortable, and all our food was edible. It could have been SO much worse. Especially if we’d tested positive while in quarantine. We know a few people who did, and they were shipped to special COVID hospitals, where they were given a wide range of drugs to ‘combat’ COVID. If you end up in one of those hospitals, you have to stay there until you test negative multiple times. It’s a nightmare, and I’m so glad it isn’t one that we had to experience.
I’m planning on doing quite a bit of blogging about Suzhou over the next year. One thing that the quarantine experience taught us, is that we definitely don’t want to be doing it again. So, at the end of this school year, we’ll be moving onto our next adventure. Until then, we’ll keep living it up (and they’ll keep locking us down… I’m sure).