COVID Life in Shanghai | + Taiwan, Japan, HK

If you've been following me on Instagram, you would've seen that life was disrupted in late January, but has been pretty much back to normal since early March. If you are not in China, you're probably also following news overseas, which for the most part do not accurately display what life in China (or Asia in fact) is like. There is a lot of over-dramatising, and to be honest the news these days is more like entertainment and a pre-scripted show with an agenda. 

I'm hoping that as someone with first hand experience, I can show you what life is truly like in Asia during this pandemic lockdown period. So here goes:

  • Number of cases in Shanghai: 96
  • Number of cases in China: 9700

January 28 (CNY Day 4) - Supply Shortage

We were actually originally going to be all the way over in the US for a Friend's wedding, but after doing a few test runs of traveling with Archer and lots of discussion, we decided that flying over to the states would be too tiring for him. 

My mom had joined us for Chinese New Year and flew in on Day 4. At that point, the outbreak in Wuhan is already well known globally, and within China there's shortage of everything. I managed to get 1 single pac, of 4 masks. Thankfully my mom was able to bring in a lot from Taiwan that would last us for the first half of the year. She brought face masks, disinfectant wipes, alcohol sprays, disinfectant hand wash, and hand sanitisers. 

There was also a food shortage, which is mostly due to the fact that over the first 3 days of CNY most people aren't working. But I think the COVID situation amplified everything. I lined up on a cold early morning at 7am just to get a few essential grocery items that I needed. It was mostly the elderly waiting out front, most people were patient, except for one guy to kicked the door and broke the glass. The police were called. Everyone else went in orderly, didn't hoard items. There were people actually saying "I am only buying exactly what I need - 2 potatoes, nothing more, nothing less." On the contrary to popular belief, people in Shanghai are actually very civilised. 

January 29 - Airlines Start Cancelling Flights to China
United were one of the first airlines that cancelled flights. Tons followed suit, and over one single night, the Shanghai Expat community blew up with messages and updates on which airlines gave out notices of cancelled routes. A lot of expats took the last flight out to South East Asia especially. Some just didn't want to get stuck in China for boredom, others were afraid of an outbreak in Shanghai. Little did they know... at exactly 2 months later they would be banned from entering China (immigration law change, more on that later).

February 2 - Two Hospitals Built in 10 Days Finally Open in Wuhan 
I followed closely online and often watched the live stream of these two hospitals being built in Wuhan. Lots of pressure, some fights broke out between different contracting construction companies ... etc, despite of that, they handed over the hospital in time to start taking in COVID patients. This was also done before during the SARS period. During February, a lot of overseas media was mocking China's effort and questioning it. Picking China apart seems to be their only hobby, but soon the world would have an outbreak and many other countries would follow suit on building temporary hospitals or using large gyms to hold patients. 

Personal opinion, which is shared by a lot of expats who live in China: foreign media is quick to criticise, and people who haven't lived in China will also jump on that bandwagon and believe everything the media tells them. By no means is media in China perfect. But don't discount the efforts of the people working with the government to solve a problem for their own country. I really applaud the Chinese for sticking together as one and helping each other. Nurses and Doctors all over the country volunteered themselves and flocked to Wuhan to help, despite having to be separated from family for months. It's not just being patriotic, Chinese people are very collective and don't hesitate to help with others are in need. This is not only true for medical workers, but also the construction workers, and even the toilet cleaners for these hospitals. An article was shared on an old lady to jumped to volunteer first as soon as she heard the emergency hospitals were complete. 

February 4 - Our Family Separates, My Son and I Flew to Taiwan 
Facing the shortage of medical supplies and food, we were even more worried of shortage of Diapers and formula if Shanghai were to have a lockdown. My son, my mom and I flew to Taiwan on the same day my husband flew to Hong Kong for work. Little did we know, that very day Taiwan issued a ban on foreigners, which is still in tact as of today (May 20th). Our family would be separated for the most of February, until we reunited in Japan. 

  • Dates in Taiwan: Feb 4 - 19
  • Cases in Taiwan: 1 
We arrived in Taiwan at the very early stages of the outbreak for Taiwan. There were no rules yet for quarantine. The only loose rule was wearing a mask in public, and that wasn't enforced. The government had been rationing face masks, something like 2 masks per person per week, redeemed at specific pharmacies with the National Health Insurance Card. There was still a serious shortage of medical use alcohol, hand sanatisers, and alcohol wipes.

However, we arrived in Taiwan just in time. A few days later they announced that any arrivals had to do a 14 day home quarantine. 

Life was pretty normal back them, it still is for the most part pretty normal throughout the entire period up to today. Taiwanese people follows rules pretty strictly, and the CDC of Taiwan is very effective in catching cases early and preventing community spread of the disease. So that means I was able to get my nails and lashes done, I also went for a routine dental check-up (cost me $5usd on my National Health Insurance card). 

After we left there was a rise in cases in Taiwan. The foreigner ban is still in place, and any Taiwan national who arrives needs to do a 14 day quarantine. People arriving from overseas cannot take public transport from the airport, and must take specific government appointed Taxis. This means no high-speed rail, and if I fly in with my son now, we would need to do a 2.5hr trip in the Taxi from the airport to our city. 

Fines are also high for anyone breaking the home quarantine rule, the most I've seen being up to 1 million Taiwanese dollars, or around $30,000 usd. Temperatures are taken in places such as the hospitals or schools. Taiwan is one of the only countries that have kept schools completely open during this pandemic period, again because of strict government rules applied at the right times and the people following these rules. 
Getting my lashes and nails done in Taiwan

  • Dates in Japan: Feb 20 - 28 
  • Cases in Japan: 10
After 3 weeks of our little family being apart, we finally met up in Tokyo on Feb 20th. It was a trip planned way in advance, and we actually flew separately to Taiwan and Hong Kong because we were worried that Japan would impose a ban or 14 day quarantine rule on anyone who's been in China. And we were right. But we both spent enough time outside of China and we were allowed in. 

Cases were very low in Japan during the end of February. Only maybe half of the people in public were wearing masks, and there were no cases in the country side. There was however already a shortage of all medical supplies.

After meeting up in Tokyo, my husband continued his trip in Hokkaido for snowboarding. I would've joined, but with our son means I wouldn't be able to enjoy anything. So I had a solo trip with Archer in Hokuriku area of Japan. We went for Kanazawa, Shirakawago, and Nagano area. It was over the long weekend (which lead to the beginning of the COVID outbreak in Japan). The Shinkansen was completely packed when we left for Kanazawa on Saturday. But luckily Archer and I stayed very safe, and we finished the trip healthy and strong. 

Instead of returning to Shanghai, we decided to all go to Hong Kong. At this point in time, China had imposed a 14-day home quarantine rule of people coming from Japan, but Hong Kong still had borders opened and no quarantine rule. My husband also needed to finish up work there, so the timing was good. 

  • Dates in Hong Kong: Feb 28 - Mar 27 
  • Cases in Hong Kong: 43 
Cases in Hong Kong pretty much hovered and didn't increase drastically. The borders wouldn't close until our 1 month stay ended. There was no shortage of any medical supplies, and masks were sold all over the streets of Hong Kong. Hand sanitisers, alcohol wipes/sprays, and such were available at almost all drug stores and grocers. 

There wasn't an enforcement on mask wearing, however some stores did have that rule. Life was pretty much normal, everything was opened including beaches and bars. 

We spent the month of March in a serviced apartment, catching up with tons of friends and going to places we love since we used to live there. 

As we were leaving, there were major updates both on Hong Kong and China side:
  • Hong Kong banned entry of non-residents at the end of March 
  • Hong Kong banned the sale of alcohol for bars & restaurants even with licenses
  • Hong Kong banned the gathering of 3+ people in public 
  • China imposed a mandatory COVID nucleic test on all foreign arrivals 
  • Shanghai imposed a mandatory quarantine on all foreign arrivals, which soon to centralised quarantine later. Home quarantine are restricted must be approved. 
  • China banned all foreigners on March 28th, the day after we arrived

  • Arrival in Shanghai: March 27th 
  • Number of Cases in Shanghai on March 27 (Friday): 155
  • Number of Cases in Shanghai as of May 20 (Wednesday): 17
  • Shanghai Population: 24 million 
We had booked our flights around a week before our departure on March 27th. I joined a WeChat group of expats returning to Shanghai. Everyone was sharing a lot of information on the latest policies and how the process from getting off to the plane to going to the COVID nucleic testing site looked like etc. 

I felt like I was super prepared. I had a "just in case bag" packed, which included formula, food, towels, just in case anyone on our flight had a fever and we immediately need to go into centralized quarantine in designated hotels. I had the rundown from plane disembarkation until going home, I even had our landlord confirm in text and ready on standby to confirm with airport health staff that our family was allowed to home quarantine. 

Within a space of 48 hours, policies drastically changed
  • Mandatory COVID nucleic test: Originally passengers where given green, yellow, red stickers based on which city they are coming from, how dangerous the city was decided your color. Green meant you can just go home, yellow meant you need to do a COVID nucleic swab test (just gonna call it swab test from now on), and red means you either go to the clinic for further check up or go straight to a centralized quarantine hotel. --------> New rule: everyone had to get tested no matter what, no more stickers. So everyone had to wait at the testing centers overnight to get the lab results (usually within 6-8hrs) 
  • Mandatory Quarantine on all arrivals: gone with the color code stickers, now everyone had to be quarantined. However, on our arrival date, home quarantine was still possible without approval. You just need to have your own rental place which is not shared, and the apartment complex/compound had to agree. 
    • Mandatory Centralized Quarantine on all arrivals: was dropped one day after we got back. This meant that home quarantine now had an application process with requirements: those over 65yo, those with dependents under 14yo, those with long term illnesses such as Diabetes. Districts that had embassies and government offices were impossible to get approval from, and many parents have been rejected and had to go to centralized quarantine with their young children. 
  • Foreigner Ban: This was announced the day before our flight, but was only in effect the day after us arriving. The foreigner ban covers all foreigners except those with China Permanent Residency, Taiwan, HK/Macau to mainland travel cards, diplomats, and Cabin Crew. So this means even if you are a resident, or you have a Chinese spouse, or your child is Chinese but you are not, you are still not allowed in. Some people who were able to apply for a humanitarian visa were 1) people helping the delivery of medical supplies or 2) people who have had an immediate family member die in China. 
Our 18 hour journey from HK back home to Shanghai
Now that we have the policy and facts down, here is what our 18 hour door-to-door trip from Hong Kong to Shanghai with a 1yo looked like:
  • Getting off the plane (1hr): Our flight took 2hrs and we landed early. When the plane doors opened in Shanghai Pudong airport, there were a few health officials wearing Hazmat suits and a list of passengers in hand. They called everyone off based on what passport you hold, so naturally my son and I holding a Taiwan travel pass got off first and were separated from the husband/dad. 
  • Health Form Submission & Interview (1hr): We went to the area right before immigrations. There were rows of tables lined up, and we stood in line for about an hour to sit down and answer questions exactly like on our health form, then the guy in the hazmat suit copied everything from my form exactly onto another form. I was clear to go to immigration and pick up my luggage then. 
  • Luggage pick up & wait for district bus to go to testing center (3hrs): We were missing one piece of luggage which took another hour of waiting to get out. Just when the last bag came, my husband also joined us. Reunited, we passed customs and got to the arrival area. No one is allowed to leave the airport on their own. People continuing to another city will have to quarantine in Shanghai, and they go towards the "Other provinces" line. For those in Shanghai, we must find our district's desk in the arrival hall. At that point they take away all of our IDs and will not return it until we test negative for COVID. 
  • At the district COVID testing center (7hrs): we arrived at around 10pm to our district's testing center. It was a large  gym with all windows opened, the inside lined with rows and rows of lounge chairs. We were assigned 3 chairs which were lined up with a safe distance from each other. We waited for an hour to get tested at 11pm. At that time everyone got both the nose and throat swab, it wasn't as bad as I thought, and my son was too tired at that point to complain. After we went back to our chairs, we had thick blankets, and picked up the free bag of milk, juice, bread, face mask, and alcohol wipe. They also had hot water at the testing center so I made my cup noodle and drifted off to sleep. Thankfully my son didn't have a problem sleeping on the same chair as me, blanket over our head covering the bright gym light. At around 5am we were woken with good news that we had tested negative and could go home. 

  • Journey home & arriving home: we boarded a large bus with everyone else that tested negative and were dropped off first at our apartment compound. There was the a doctor and our committee rep waiting for us. After filling out another form, we finally were home, and wouldn't step out of our front door for another 14 days. 

Home Quarantine in Shanghai
The home quarantine rules here are pretty strict to ensure that the measures are effective. There are rules such as 
  • Door Sensors installed so each time your front door opens it alerts the committee representative. I need to text him and let him know the reason I opened the door. If it stays open for too long the police is called. For some stricter apartment compounds, they mandate what times and how many times a day you can open the door. 
  • Trash Collection is done by a specific person who comes once per day. They will double bag your trash and then disinfect it. The person collecting our trash says there's at least 90+ households in our smaller district that he's collecting trash from. 
  • No-contact delivery: in our compound we are allowed to order food, groceries, and online shopping to be delivered. However it is brought upstairs by the security guy and left in front of our door and we are not allowed to go downstairs to collect it.  
  • Temperature check and assigned doctor: a doctor is assigned to check our temperature twice a day, and she is also the one who will mark us as complete in her home quarantine tracker app and issue a piece of paper stating we have completed quarantine. 

Our sub-district also gave us a super lovely care pack including a letter, hand sanitizer, huge stack of masks, alcohol spray, alcohol wipes, and gloves. 

"All people belong to one family on earth, let’s take care, we shall meet in spring breeze very soon!

Thank you for your cooperation on keeping commitments to ensure the home quarantine policy is enforced strictly. Let’s work hand in hand for making a safer and better living environment together.

Wish you and your family in good health and all the best."

After the border closure to foreigners on March 28th, there is also an application process for home quarantine since centralized quarantine became a universal rule no matter where you flew in from. In order to apply for home quarantine, you must meet at least one of the qualifications below:
  • Are over 65 yo 
  • Have dependents under 14yo
  • Are pregnant
  • Have an underlying health condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart condition, or just underwent surgery. 
It is still subject to approval by your district committee and can be denied if you happen to live in a district with many government offices or embassies. 
Application form for home quarantine

What does centralized quarantine look like?
It's honestly not that bad. The centralized quarantine hotels are just regular hotels around 3-4 stars that have cleared out to be used to hold incoming travelers. As a traveler, you need to pay for your own room which costs anywhere between 200-400rmb per night, and food each day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) costs around 50-100rmb per day. 

Each district has several quarantine hotels, and some do let you choose how high-end or how much you'd like to pay per night as they understand that not everyone has the same budget. 

In the rooms they provide towels, toiletries, bottled water, hot water kettle etc. Centralized heating and AC not allowed, and not all rooms have fridges. Some hotels allow delivery, others allow some delivery (such as no hot food, no easily perishable fruits, no alcohol or cigarettes, only toiletries for online shop deliveries etc). Some hotels even allow for your friends and family to leave food or packages for you at the front desk. They generally bring up the deliveries at specific given times a day since there's little staff compared to the amount of quarantined people they need to service. 

During centralized quarantine, you also have your temperature checked twice a day, and you are given toilet disinfecting tablets to use once a day. 

What is a health code?
A health code is a colored QR code (red/yellow/green) which is tied to your mobile carrier (GPS tracked) and tied to your travel document. 

The purpose of this health code is to differentiate how "safe" and individual is, and it is required at certain establishments such as when entering a hospital, bank, some restaurants and cafes, gyms... etc. You will only be let in if you have a green health code. 

What do the colors mean:
  • Red: you are currently being treated or completing your 14 day quarantine. You are currently in a high risk area. 
  • Yellow: you have been in close proximity to a person with a fever or close proximity to a high risk area and are recommended to be quarantined
  • Green: you are healthy, have completed 14 days quarantine, and have not been anywhere high risk in the past 14 days. 
Generally at the end of the 14 day quarantine period, your doctor checks you off and the code automatically turn green after that. 

This code is also heavily used for traveling within China. The high speed rail and local flights will check your health code, and most certainly the hotel you are checking into. However different provinces have different rules on whether you need to quarantine again even when traveling within China. For example Beijing being the capital is the most strict, no matter coming in from a foreign country or another province in China, everyone entering Beijing must quarantine there for 14 days. 

So how is life in Shanghai? (March, April, May)
  • Current cases in Shanghai (May 23): 13
Everything has been opened since March, that includes the nail salon, hair salon, massage parlors, gyms, parks, baby swimming centers and recently in May Disneyland! 

Life is pretty much back to normal. And although wearing a mask is not mandated and no one fines you for it, almost every still wears their mask. I'm super thankful of this because this is how Shanghai is able to return back to normal so soon: strict quarantine rules and the general public abiding to health recommendations. Also, there is no shortage of anything, toilet paper fully in stock, alcohol wipes & sprays, face masks etc. 

(Bottom right is a high school) Schools also started opening between early May to June, so from First grade up to College have all started school. 

(Bottom left: no contact delivery means most buildings have a shelf on the first floor. However Shanghai has removed this as of mid-may)

(Bottom right: going to my massage place, just a temperature check!)


What is going to a hospital in Shanghai like?

Hospitals are particularly strict. But we did have to go for 2 rounds of vaccines and 1 dental check up for our son. Hospital is one of the most strict places to go to, you first need to sign a form (online or in person), then you get your temperature checked and hands sanitized.  

Everything else was as usual, the patients weren't over flowing, and all of the different departments operated as usual. 



Going out in Shanghai
After returning and completing our home quarantine, we started going out like we did before. We brought out son to swimming (they've been opened since late Feb/March. We also had a really lovely Mother's Day Brunch organized by Shanghai Mamas group at the Mandarin Oriental hotel! There were tons of kids of all ages and a lovely outdoor area for kids to play around in. 


My husband and I were also finally able to go on date night again. It was an amazing Argentinean steak house with huge windows and balconies, perfect for the early summer breeze. They checked everyones temperatures and took down details of our IDs and travel history. 

The moms also had a few gatherings out at Bars and Restaurants! Bull and Claw is doing Oysters and Martinis for 20rmb per glass during Thursday happy hour! How amazing is that?


I'm also happy that I can finally go back to Pilates.

Lastly, life during quarantine and just at home in general can be boring. So I've been finding a ton of activities for my son to do at home. You can find some of the things we did below:

  • Paper clips and cupcake cups on a sticky wall (just turn some wallpaper upside down and stick the sticky side facing out!)
  • Painting with water - way less messier than paint! 

  • Stacking paper cups
  • Zippers (hot glued onto a piece of cardboard)

  • Water sensory play in his tub 
  • Toys wrapped in aluminium foil (for him to unwrap)

  • Paper straws and wooden clips inside a clear bottle
  • Easter Sensory bin: oats with plastic eggs and wooden carrot toys

  • Yarn and his toys inside a laundry basket
  • Photos on a wall + toilet rolls and pom pom balls to drop through the toilet rolls. 

Actually having gone through the journey back into China, the quarantine myself, and living here is the reason why it enrages me when the international community can sometimes be very one-sided, ill informed by the western media, and just completely unable and unwilling to see that life here is actually pretty normal and good. Very few of the "experts" or "journalist" have set foot in China, let alone Wuhan. But when someone actually from Wuhan speaks up and says life is normal, people don't believe them and just say that the government is shutting them up about how life is. And for anyone living in China (like myself) to say anything good about China, we immediately get called out with something ridiculous like we are pro-communist or spreading propaganda. No, that is simply not true. I have zero ties with the Chinese government, and life is in fact, just that great here. Come see for yourself (when the borders open of course). 

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