Travel To China In 2022 Don't Test Positive!One of our management team based in our Shenzhen office visited her family in Europe and flew back to China recently. Many foreign importers with a supply chain there are eager to travel to China in 2022, but even if it is possible for employees and business travellers to come in and do 10 days of quarantine, it is far from a straightforward experience…she was also unlucky enough to test positive on her return to China, and it’s at this point that things started to go very wrong…


First, we discussed the difficult journey back to China in this bonus podcast episode:


Starting the journey back to China: PCR Tests & Green Codes

Before travelling to China foreigners need a valid visa, that’s either a residence permit for workers in China or a business visa (and maybe family members on a spouse visa, too, although they’re probably not travelling for business). Travel to China in 2022 for tourism is not yet possible as of October ’22. Obtaining a visa these days is a different story that could be an entire blog post itself, so we won’t go into that here.

The pre-flight covid testing required is 2 PCR tests at different Chinese-embassy-certified laboratories in the departure country, one 48 hours before departure, and the second 24 hours before.

Note, that if you transit through a third country, you will need to obtain another 2 PCR tests from selected labs in that country too before continuing your journey to China. That looks something like this: Departure from Paris 2xPCR tests > Arrive in Bangkok 2xPCR tests > Arrive in Shanghai.

After obtaining the negative PCR test results, you will need to register for a green HDC code (for foreign nationals) by registering on the MOFA website and submitting various information such as the test results, itinerary, etc. You may only board the flight if you have this green code (so you’ll have to do this twice if transiting through a third country).

Our team member took several tests before she obtained the PCR tests to be sure that she would be able to board the flight, everything was negative and she wasn’t ill.

Please check current travel rules with the Chinese authorities before travelling. This post outlines some of the up-to-date China covid restrictions and may be helpful for you.


Arriving in China

Direct flights to China, in her experience, don’t have any food and drink service and staff are wearing hazmat suits, so you’ll need to prepare some supplies on your own for what is probably a long flight. She flew from Warsaw to Shenyang, as this was the only destination available for direct flights from there. She would later fly to Shenzhen, but more on that to come.

Upon arrival in China, you’ll be taken into a special area of the terminal and be sent from desk to desk quite quickly. In her case, there were about 10 stations, dealing with testing on arrival and immigration matters such as passport checks, etc. You are not permitted to leave the area or use the toilet.

We’ve probably all seen videos like this from Chinese airports where travellers are being guided to specific places by staff in hazmat suits…


Quarantine Hotel Stay #1

She was then bused to the quarantine hotel directly from the airport in a special bus, again helped by staff and a driver in full hazmat suits. Most residents do 7 days in a quarantine hotel and then 3 days at home where they cannot leave their apartment, but business travellers would have to stay the full 10 days in the hotel.

You can’t select which hotel you stay in for the quarantine period and they cost between around 300 to 600RMB (40-80USD) per night, so the quarantine is quite costly. Food is included, although guests are free to order outside delivery in some cases at their own cost (you would need WeChat and a linked bank account to order and pay, though).

Settling down to do her 7-day quarantine in the hotel room, she was called in the evening with the bad news that she had tested positive on arrival. She would need to pack everything up, dress in a hazmat costume they provided, and leave for the quarantine hospital soon.

Hazmat workers came to take her to the hospital in an ambulance. All her further trips until the airports were in ambulances.

quarantine hospital bus

She tried to explain that all of her other tests were negative and questioned the result, but there was no way to argue. The hazmat staff didn’t speak to the ‘patients’ and information was very hard to come by.


Transferred To A Quarantine Hospital

At the hospital there were more tests on arrival, which were all returned as negative, however, the rules were that each patient needs to stay in the hospital for 7 days if there was a positive test at the airport causing their admission.

The only way she managed to find out that the hospital stay would be 7 days was after contacting her embassy in China who spoke to the covid authorities and passed her the information. Hospital staff gave no information, although there was a WeChat group with doctors there where questions could be asked about health.

There are reports of unpleasant tests such as anal swabs being administered to arrivals to China, but this didn’t happen in her experience. Fortunately, that policy seems to have changed, but that might be in place in other provinces.

Here are some points about your stay in the quarantine hospital if you’re unlucky enough to end up in one:

  • You pay an initial 5,000RMB (700USD) deposit to cover the cost of the stay, testing, and treatment you’re given if you are actually ill due to Covid (it may end up being more).
  • The minimum stay in the hospital is 7 days and this is in addition to the usual 7 days in a quarantine hotel and 3 days under home supervision.
  • You need negative tests on the 2 final consecutive days of the hospital stay in order to be released.
  • Hospital rooms do not come with food or supplies – meals, soap, toilet roll, etc, must be purchased from the hospital via WeChat at your cost. The food wasn’t great and was very Chinese and perhaps challenging for some foreigners to eat.
  • She was never provided with any physical test results, even though they were paid for, and there is no discussion or negotiation to have a second test if a new positive test is unexpectedly registered after several negative ones.
  • Staff barely speak to you and even then not in English. A traveller who doesn’t have WeChat and can’t speak Chinese will have a rough time in quarantine in places like this.

We don’t know if her experience is typical or not, but the hospital was old and in poor condition and the room didn’t have a window, had not been cleaned, was cold (it was only 3 degrees C outside), dimly lit, and felt more like a prison cell than a hospital room. Here are some shots of the room:

china quarantine hospital Staff would not clean the room for her, but they did provide some cleaning supplies so she could clean it herself.

Here is a nurse who would take food and supply orders:

nurse in covid quarantine hospital

On the 7th day of her hospital stay her daily test came back positive again, so she had to stay a further 2 days in the hospital.


Back to the Quarantine Hotel #2

Finally released from the hospital, the new quarantine hotel was not as nice as the first one and appeared to be a high-security hotel for risky people (such as those who had been marked as testing positive in the past). It had 3 layers of fences around it, although it was more comfortable than the hospital.

The 7-day quarantine within the room started again at this point, so now the total was 15 days.


Flying To Shenzhen and Home Observation

After the 7-day quarantine in the hotel, you need to complete the 3 days of medical observation including more testing at your own home or in a quarantine hotel if you’re just visiting. Some quarantine hotels only allow stays of up to 7 days, so in this case, you might need to transfer to a second quarantine hotel for the final 3 days.

She has to fly back to Shenzhen for the final 3 days of observation at home, but the authorities had informed her community (group of apartment buildings also known as a ‘garden’) that she had been a positive case upon arrival and they were reluctant to even let her come back until the full 10 days had been completed.

Local authorities and even housing management are all responsible for applying the zero-covid policy, and some will be more strict than others. If they say you can’t return home, there probably isn’t much you can do about it.

After the 10 days have been completed, you will have a green QR code and be free to move around China as normal, although regular testing is required in communities in order to preserve your green status and positive contacts could lead to another quarantine for you.

Here’s a video that explains how the health code system works in China:


Tips For Avoiding Extra Quarantine

If you are travelling to China soon, negative PCR tests before you depart may not be enough to guarantee that you will avoid the hospital.

If you think you may have had covid recently, it’s better to wait for some months before you travel.

Our team member had negative tests all the way, but she believes that the tests they perform in the airport are more sensitive and may come back positive even if you do not have covid. This is because they measure viral load, rather than just if an individual is positive or negative. Over time the load will fall, hence the advice to wait, although people who are not ill will usually not consider this to be an issue and there is no official guidance on this matter; simply that two negative PCR tests are required within the 48hrs before departure.

She wasn’t ill with Covid and 99% of her tests were negative. Could she have been carrying some viral load from earlier that the tests didn’t pick up? It’s of course possible, however improbable.
Even if she was, would she be contagious? The science seems to suggest not (people exhibiting symptoms would have more virus particles in their body to transmit by coughing, sneezing, etc, as opposed to asymptomatic cases or people who have recovered).

We know that many people have asymptomatic covid infections where they don’t even know that they have the virus, so how can you account for that? You can’t.


Will Zero-Covid Be Relaxed?

The world is waiting and watching what happens at China’s 20th Communist Party Conference which starts on Sunday 16th October 2022. The conference only occurs once every 5 years and it’s here that China’s leadership lay out their plans for the future.

It is hoped that zero-covid policies will be relaxed after the conference, although we simply do not know if that will occur yet.

What we do know is that it is an unpopular policy with many Chinese people, whose lives are disrupted, and that it is economically damaging, so surely something will have to give eventually to bring China into step with the rest of the world.


Are The Risks Of Travelling To China Today Worth It?

If we consider what happened here, travelling to China comes with a risk of an arbitrary quarantine period and some unpleasant mental and physical discomfort that foreign visitors need to weigh up the pros and cons of before travelling.

Our team member had no reason to believe that she would be considered a positive case before travelling, but there are no appeals process, dialogue, or second opinions and tests. This is the real effect of China’s zero-covid policy on travellers these days.

So even if you can visit China right now, you may be wondering, should you?


Sofeast can help you

We have offices in China, India, and Vietnam, as well as local staff around SE Asia, in order to support your business needs remotely. Considering how hard or unrealistic travel to China in 2022 is, relying on our local staff to provide your ‘boots on the ground’ for sourcing, auditing, inspections, project management, and more, is a convenient solution for many clients.

There is still a risk in China that suppliers will bar access to factories for any outsiders due to local covid policies, which is why we have offered a hybrid approach and perform both on-site and remote activities to reach your objectives even in cases like this for several years now.

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