BEIJING – While the rest of the world continues to be in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic and cases continue to rise, China – the country where it all began – seems to have passed at least the current phase and has been without any local infection for 33 days, although infections in travelers arriving from overseas continue to be detected.
The countless controls and rigorous quarantines that everyone arriving from overseas – whether Chinese or otherwise – are subjected to are one of China’s main keys to preventing the virus from returning to its territory from the countries still being ravaged by the virus despite China’s borders being closed for many of them.
This is not the case for those from Spain and other European countries, from where both Chinese and foreigners residing in the Asian country can return after undergoing a coronavirus test at source and at least three upon arrival, in addition to a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own cost.
However, the flights available are still scarce and very expensive while travel to China is still not allowed from badly affected regions, such as Latin America.
In addition to controls on travel, the strict lockdown of areas where outbreaks have arisen and the widespread use of masks are other seemingly successful tools the Chinese have adopted to control COVID-19.
Even today, after more than a month without new cases, the vast majority of the population is wearing masks, even outside despite it being mandatory to do so only in closed public places.
Of all the measures implemented by Beijing to combat the pandemic, undoubtedly the toughest and most controversial one is the rigorous hotel quarantine, in total isolation, for those arriving from abroad.
Anyone traveling to China must first be tested for the virus at source before their plane departs and must have met all the requirements for a Chinese visa, including those residing in the country or an “essential worker” of some key industry.
If they are traveling to Beijing, they will have to quarantine in other cities, where international flights to the capital – which Chinese authorities zealously protect from any infection – have been diverted.
Maria Miret, a Spanish teacher in Beijing who returned to China four days ago, told EFE that as soon as she landed in Xian city in central China, they were taken to a separate, empty area of the airport.
There, they had to undergo both a COVID-19 nasal and a throat swab test after filling out dozens of forms asking for information about the cities they had been to in Spain, with whom, the duration of their stay in each place and a host of other questions about their life in China.
“When you finish the three-hour process, they put you on buses to the hotel, you don’t know which hotel you are going to be dropped off at, they drop you in groups of ten and start spraying you with disinfectant fluid,” the young Spaniard explained.
Before you are taken to the room, you have to pay for accommodation and meals for 14 nights.
Miret said that a woman on her flight had to lend her money as she did not have enough for the hotel assigned to her, which cost 500 yuan (about $74) a day with meals included.
“Everything is covered in plastic, the lamps, the hallways. They ring the doorbell three times a day and leave your food on a table next to the door, towels are not changed, nor is the room cleaned. No one comes in for 14 days,” she added.
The only thing that can leave the room is the trash, which is also left at the door daily.
The hotel’s management stocks the rooms with enough toilet paper rolls, shampoos and gels to last for two weeks.
And three times a day, the body’s temperature must be reported in a group of the WeChat messaging application (the Chinese WhatsApp), where an official also gives instructions on the tests to be carried out, one more in the middle of the quarantine and one at the end of the quarantine.
Only diplomats are exempt from hotel quarantine and can isolate at home, although they must also land in a city other than Beijing.
Another key tool in China to control the pandemic has been health mobile apps, which detect people’s movements and know if they’ve been somewhere or with someone “at risk,” after which they get a code red – which blocks entry into public transport, restaurants, malls, etc. – or a green one – which allows people to move around freely.
Without the green code, it’s better to stay home. One can’t eat at a restaurant, enter a shop or mall, travel to another city in the country, catch a train or plane, or even visit friends or relatives in a housing complex, which is common in China.
Now a feature has been added to the application that allows one to check-in the place one has entered in case the app fails to pick it up.
Each Chinese province has its own application and codes so that the green code you can have in Beijing doesn’t work elsewhere.
A new provincial application has to be installed as soon as one reaches the airport that automatically tells the users if they have a green code or a red code. In case of the latter, one is not allowed to even leave the terminal.
Fortunately for foreigners, the airport staff is helpful and patiently explain what data one must enter into each application (which is in Chinese) or fill it for you.