China’s Quarantine and Lockdown Procedures in Detail and Why Covid Dynamic Zero is Important
I don’t think people outside of China realise this but if you enter China at the moment, here’s what happens to you and if you know someone living in China, here’s what’s happening to them.
Obviously, some people will have experienced slightly different interpretations by different regional administrations but the fundaments are here.
In the last two years I have visited 5 other provinces including some capital cities, I’ve travelled 7 weeks on a bike through Guangdong and Guangxi living in hotels every night, been on 9 high speed trains in this period and have lived in China throughout the pandemic except for a very trip very early in the pandemic when I went overseas for 3 weeks and returned into a quarantine. This is based on my own experience and may not match the experience of others.
Arrival in China
You get off the plane and not one person you meet in the next 14 days will meet you without wearing 100% hazmat clothing — those people who do meet with you are tested for Covid every single day, they work 14 days straight then enter 14 days quarantine, then they have 14 days off where they are free to meet their families and friends, before starting the cycle again.
Your passport will be checked by someone like this, you will be processed into a quarantine centre by someone like this and, if your food is delivered by a person not a robot, your food delivery for the next 2 weeks will be deposited outside your room by someone like this, who you will never meet. Every day your body temperature will be tested and every three days you will be either nasal or throat tested by someone who is dressed like this too.
Your luggage will be disinfected on arrival, before you pick it up from the carousel and the airport will be disinfected after you leave it. Probably several times a day if a lot of flights are coming in but, in any event, at least once a day.
The plane you got off will be disinfected as part of the cleaning process and the cleaning staff will not mix with travellers or with other personnel in the airport who are not living and working in the same closed loop management as themselves.
If your plane has 5 or more passengers who test positive for Covid, that flight number will be suspended for 14 days. This means anyone who has booked on that flight in the next 2 weeks, will not be coming to China. Therefore, it’s considered imperative that passengers arriving in China have undergone a test in the preceding 24–48 hours and have taken precautions whilst on the flight. Wearing of masks, regular washing of hands etc. The problem here is that many flights are long flights and when eating food, there is a higher risk of exposure. For this reason, all passengers will undergo a full isolated quarantine period, no matter who they are.
At the end of your 14 days quarantine, you enter a period they call self-monitoring. During this period, you are required to report your temperature and location every day to the local community. You are recommended not to eat in large restaurants and not to meet with large groups although it is not forbidden to do so. Several of the lapses, where Covid has entered the community have occurred during this 7 day observation period so compliance is important.
Leaders of states and other such dignitaries may very well be spared this process due to the private nature of their flights but even they will have followed protocols which include testing and disinfection to ensure there is no risk, especially if meeting leaders of China whilst in the country.
Lockdown when in China
China has three different types of lockdown: They are lockdown, partial lockdown and medium risk lockdown.
In Lockdown, no one is allowed to leave their apartment unless attending a test site, in smaller places the test will come to you so, until the matter is resolved, you may not leave your apartment at all. This could be a few days or, as we’ve seen in Wuhan in 2020 and Shanghai 2022, it could be several weeks. Food will be brought to you but it will be assumed you have some food in your home to manage the first few days — in China, most people shop for fresh vegetables and meat daily so this has caused some serious problems — it should also be noted that the population of Shanghai was given warning that they would be going into a lockdown. Most cities don’t get this. It’s also important to note that Shanghai residents were told the lockdown would be only 4 days and this is one of the main reasons for complaints that have arisen.
A partial lockdown is when people are required to stay home, they are not allowed to leave except for shopping and only then under controlled circumstances. In our case, it was one resident allowed to leave every second day and only for 3 hours. The resident who was issued the pass was the only person allowed out.
In the area, all in-restaurant dining is closed, all non-essential shops, cinemas, gymnasiums and other places where people might congregate, including public parks are closed. The supermarkets will be open and perhaps some aspects of the wet market but live meat and fish will not be available and there will be no public transport in or out of the area. Other than the approved shopping trip, there are no opportunities to exercise outside the home.
A medium risk zone will restrict people from entering the area but not restrict people moving around within it. Restaurants and bars may be closed but they may just be limited to either 75% or 50% of their capacity and spaced wider than usual, depending on local interpretation and risk assessment. Public transport will not come in or out, if there is a metro station the exits and entries into the area will be closed, if the metro station is an interchange the train will stop to allow passengers to change trains but not to leave the station, otherwise the train will pass straight through without stopping and buses will be re-routed to avoid the area. In other words, life goes on pretty much as normal but you can’t go in or out of the area without very good reason and if you are required to enter, you may not be allowed to leave. If you have a valid reason for leaving, you will need a test and, in some cases a period of isolation which may be 3 days, 7 days or the full 14-day quarantine depending on the level of risk and the interpetation in the area you go to.
Recently, my wife and I spend 2 nights in Guangzhou (our provincial capital, 80 kilometres away), on return to Zhongshan we needed to register with the local community and take a test within 48 hours and another one 48 hours later (both were free). During this time we were asked not to eat in restaurants or mix with large groups, other than that there were no more restrictions than for anyone else. The reason was that two suburbs of Guangzhou, a city of over 18 million people, had experienced 10 cases in the last few days. Our situation was an abundance of caution and very little inconvenience as the nearest testing station is only 10 minutes walk away but we did miss spending Mother’s Day with my wife’s mum.
Overall, in Chinese cities there is a heightened awareness, there is no such thing in China as a risk-free zone. Everything is categorised as either: Low; Medium or High Risk. In Low-Risk zones, QR codes are on every door to every place where people shop, eat or are entertained. Masks are required to enter shops, markets, public transport and other large buildings but not required for walking in the streets or the parks (However, I entered a park yesterday and, while showing my code, was reminded by the volunteer that I should keep my mask on at all times, so there are some interpretation issues).
Rural regions are a lot less strict but there is still an awareness. Every time you check into a hotel, even very low level/priced hotels, you need to show a green QR code. Travelling through Guangxi and Sichuan into some very remote parts of China last year, it was hardly noticeable that there was a pandemic at all, except in hotels where I, the foreigner, was usually, but not always, asked to show my code; my Chinese wife was rarely asked.
We are recommended to spray alcohol or disinfectant on every parcel we receive and, if a parcel is from overseas, it is recommended that the opening process is managed with disposable gloves and each layer of packaging is sprayed before opening to the next layer. Any parcels that have come from overseas will have already gone through a cleansing/disinfection process but it has been recommended that we don’t place orders from overseas as there will be a delay in receiving them.
Dynamic Covid Zero
There are many complaints around the world about China’s approach but I’ve written and made videos about this topic already. One thing that’s very important to note is that, in my case, 100% of the people I know in China support this strategy. Having said that, almost everyone I know has some complaints about the process and operations required to maintain the strategy. No one wants to be locked down, no one wants to be isolated from their family in friends but not one person I’ve ever met in China, be it foreigner or Chinese has ever said they would like to see China adopt the US, UK or Australian approaches. China, over 29 months of the pandemic has lost, as of today 12th May 2022, 5,203 people to Covid whilst the USA and the UK lose this many in a little over a month. Australia, a massive, wide open country with a similar population to Shanghai, has lost a total of 7,613 people to Covid and 524 of these were under 50 years of age. Numbers like these in rich, developed nations justify China’s approach. Cities on the Eastern seaboard of China may be rich and developed but the vast majority of China is still developing.
Two Chinese cities, Shanghai and HK have experienced major problems with Covid and both of these can, and will, be traced back to procedural errors. HK has its own administration and they acted independently of Central Government, as is appropriate under the One Country Two Systems policy. Shanghai is a municipality, the city’s governance has a high degree of autonomy from Central Government and both cities have very high numbers of foreign residents as well as many foreign educated citizens. It’s quite likely that cultural factors, independent governance issues and interpretation of CPC edicts to cater for culturally different populations created differences in implementation leading to the mistakes which caused catastrophic breakdowns of the procedure in both places. It’s well worthy of note that the vast majority of Chinese citizens in hundreds of cities and towns around the country have not experienced anything like the degree of inconvenience or problems but we don’t get to see places like Xi’an, Shenyang or Suzhou’s lockdown issues on the news because there aren’t many, even though every place has foreigners resident, they aren’t working for the BBC with a platform aimed at raising complaint levels.
A lot of detractors overseas decry China’s figures as impossible but it’s not impossible. I’ve lived here throughout the pandemic and never met anyone who’s had Covid, nor have I met anyone who knows anyone who had Covid. I have hundreds of friends and contacts in different parts of China and over 20,000 Twitter followers who live in China. If I have no friends or acquaintances who know of anyone who has had covid, let alone died from it, it’s a safe thing to say that China’s covid numbers are real. My own city, Zhongshan population over 4 million, has experienced less than 100 cases and not one death.
Dynamic Covid Zero may be a pain in the neck but it saves lives. About 1.4 billion people want it (but, if we’re honest, we don’t want it to happen to us) and whatever the rest of the world would like to happen, we, the people who live in China, are very happy to see the Chinese government inconvenience them (and us), in order to keep the vast majority of us safe until a better solution than “let it rip” can be found.