After 64 days quarantined in Hubei, I finally got the good news: I could return home to Shenzhen! This is the story of my “post-epidemic” flight home...
After 64 days in Yichang (Hubei, China), I finally got the good news: I could return home to Shenzhen!
Globally, the pandemic is still spreading like wildfire, and the number of people affected by the novel coronavirus has exceeded 1 million. My personal experience is that China is bringing Covid-19 under control.
On March 25, the Hubei Provincial Government officially issued a notice: Starting at midnight on the 25th, passenger trains inside and outside the province except for Wuhan would be restored. The China-Europe Wuhan train would resume. All railway freight transportation would be back to normal operation.
Hubei Yichang epidemic situation
Yichang City is located in the central and western part of Hubei Province, with a population of approximately 4.2 million people. The city has a total of 931 confirmed cases of Covid-19, 894 cured and discharged, and 36 deaths.
Among the most severely infected areas in Yichang were Xiling District and Gezhouba District, as these are areas packed with migrant workers based in Wuhan. A large number of Wuhan migrant workers returned on the eve of the Spring Festival, causing more than 40% of infections in Yichang City.
Travel restrictions are lifted, but tickets are still hard to buy
A month ago, I had booked a mid-April flight back to Shenzhen, as the travel ban was originally expected to be lifted by then. Once it was lifted on March 25, I exchanged my ticket for an earlier flight. The air tickets are still difficult to buy. Large-scale airlines such as Shenzhen Airlines and China Southern Airlines are not yet back in operation.
Instead, currently flying are small-scale airlines such as Donghai Airlines and Juneyao Airlines, and many flights require transfers to reach a destination. High-speed rail must also be reserved.
By making several different attempts, I finally booked a direct flight from Yichang to Shenzhen on April 3.
I spent a total of 64 days quarantined (Jan. 31–April 3) and 60 days working remotely, since my company resumed work on February 3. Now, I am finally free! During my journey home, I recorded all of the details of taking a “post-epidemic” flight in China, shown in the following pages.
The Yichang intercity bus has resumed operation, but the number of people allowed on board has greatly decreased, as the bus requires interval seating. The 45-seat bus now allows only 22 people onboard, and face masks are required. Before boarding, you are required to show your ID card and health code, and you must check your temperature as well.
The first hurdle to entering the airport gate is to check your body temperature and show your ID card and health code.
Children who do not have a household registration in Hubei Province must have a health certificate or birth certificate showing where their household registration is located before they can board the plane.
I offered to help a child who was traveling who did not have a certificate. Since I live in Shenzhen, I had nobody in Hubei I could get help from on this matter. Fortunately I tracked down a teacher at the kindergarten where the child goes to. The teacher was able to send a copy of the relevant certificate in time.
A child with a household registration in Nanchang also encountered the same dilemma. He called his family to ask for help before boarding the plane.
After the first security check, we entered the check-in hall. Compared with before the outbreak, there were far fewer people in there. Even though only two service windows were opened at the check-in desk, that was sufficient to serve all passengers.
The situation at the airport seems to have improved. There was no requirement for passengers in the queue to maintain a certain physical distance. But they all must wear masks. They could use the hand sanitizer at the check-in desk. The young lady who handled check-ins only wore a mask.
After successfully completing check-in, there was the second security check. This procedure is not much different from that before the outbreak. A temperature check is not needed at this point; it is mainly to check for contraband, chargers, umbrellas, computers, and other routine inspections. Because of close contact, the staff wears protective clothing.
After the security check was over, people entered the waiting hall. The staff wore protective clothing, protective glasses, and masks.
Passengers waiting for their flight wore protective clothing such as disposable raincoats. Children wore transparent masks over their regular face masks.
There was one more procedure before boarding. In addition to ticket inspection upon arrival at the airport and before entering the cabin, the airport has set up a special checkpoint 10 meters in front of the hatch. Passengers must show their tickets, ID cards, and health codes, as well as undergo temperature checks.
We ran into a problem after boarding the plane. During the first day of online check-in and seat selection, the middle seat displayed “gray,” or not available. But once boarded, we found those middle seats were occupied. This goes to show a big surge in demand for “Yichang-Shenzhen” return tickets. The airline might have temporarily allowed that to happen.
Once onboard, the rules are more relaxed and families are allowed to sit together.
During the flight, all passengers had their temperature taken. The plane meal was a simple sandwich and mineral water, which made for a fast meal and reduced the time spent not wearing a mask.
Because the elderly are more at risk, older passengers were wearing thick, protective clothing, protective glasses, and masks. Their foreheads were covered with sweat by the end of the flight.
Before the plane landed, we had our temperatures taken one last time. The time it took to get off the plane was about 20 minutes longer than before the outbreak, because we had to wait for the Shenzhen Airport staff to perform an inspection.
Workers wore protective clothing; checked ID cards, health codes, and body temperatures; and issues pink “reception certificates” for “qualified” passengers.
When disembarking from the aircraft, you must present the “Certificate of Acceptance” before you can leave.
The airport is connected to the subway. Upon reaching the subway floor, the staff asked for your health code and scanned the code so you could buy tickets. (Before the outbreak, you could purchase tickets via a self-service machine, the Shenzhen Subway app, manually, or use a subway card; now, it is strictly “contactless” sales.)
A “returning person registration office” was set up at the gate of the residential area in Shenzhen to check temperatures, ID cards, and health codes; register basic information of accompanying persons; and take photos for evidence.
This is just the first hurdle. Then you must go to the community service management office for a second registration. The information here is more detailed. In addition to temperature, ID card, and health code checks, you must provide information such as flight number, contact phone number, and your address and sign the “Hubei Renshen Anti-Epidemic Personnel’s Obligation Notification.” After the information is filled out, the management office will issue a pink “access permit” for each person, and only then can you enter or leave the community.
I roughly counted that from Hubei to Shenzhen, I had my temperature checked seven times, presented my health code seven times, and showed my ID card five times.
It’s really tiring to go through many levels, but it’s a pleasure to return to vibrant Shenzhen after two month-long confinement in Hubei!
At 7:00 a.m. on April 7, my first day back to work, the Shenzhen Metro’s inspection/control was not as strict as expected, and it has almost returned to its pre-outbreak state. The staff did not check my body temperature, nor did they require health codes and ID cards, but the flow of people was much less than before the outbreak. The crowded Line 11 before the outbreak is now considerably empty.
At 8:25 a.m., I arrived at the office building. At the entrance, various reminders that must have been created during the peak of the epidemic are still there (wearing a mask, measuring body temperature, keeping a distance, etc.). After entering the building, the property staff took my temperature. It is worth mentioning that the building property has prepared a special tissue for pressing the elevator button.
At 8:30 a.m., I got a work card at my company’s office door. My temperature was taken at the front desk and I entered the office. I was the last employee to come back to work in my company. And yet, the company saved for me a red envelope celebrating the new year. Simply Perfect!
— Fendy Wang is managing chief analyst of ESM-China, EE Times’ sister publication.