Travel diary: 14 days in quarantine in mainland China

Illustrations by Published January 14, 2021

South China Morning Post graphic artist Han Huang travelled to mainland China to visit her family, a trip unlike any she has taken before. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, she had to follow strict border protocols and spend 14 days in quarantine. This is her experience.

Day 1, trip to the mainland

Leave home in Hong Kong at 3.30pm

I take the MTR and then a taxi to Shenzhen Bay Port border checkpoint. Feeling very excited because Shenzhen is just across the bridge, with magnificent views on both sides.

5.00 pm

The first noticeable difference is that Shenzhen Bay Port is much quieter than it was before the pandemic. I see only a handful of travellers and all the escalators are off.

After a short walk, border officers in face masks tell me to go through an automated immigration clearance channel — or e-Channel — using my Hong Kong ID card.

On the Shenzhen side, border officers wearing PPE gear, from shoe covers to face shields, stand at the port entrance. This is pretty much the norm after this point.

After crossing the border, an official checks my passport, checks a medical certificate with my recent (negative) Covid-19 test results and gives me two forms to fill in.

This noticeboard tells travellers what to do next. I input my health and personal details through a WeChat app, which sends back a special QR code.

A border officer checks my temperature, QR code and forms before letting me through.

I arrive at another checkpoint. An officer scans my QR code and asks for my Hong Kong home address.

I arrive at an immigration counter, where there are three border officials. One officer asks if I have been overseas recently, checks my travel documents and then lets me proceed.

I’m now in the arrivals hall where there are a series of tables where officials check each traveller’s destination. Each table displays coloured stickers for different locations. I’m asked where I’m going (Huizhou in Guangdong province) and given a green sticker.

I’m asked to hand over my passport, which will be given back later, and follow the signs outside.

Phew! So relieved that’s over. I’m told that only people going to Huizhou and Shanwei (another city in Guangdong) would be allowed to quarantine there, or nearby. People travelling elsewhere are taken to various locations in Shenzhen.

Travellers told to quarantine in Shenzhen are grouped in separate tents, where they wait for buses to take them to hotels.

6.41 pm

We’re allowed to depart for our quarantine hotel!

We board a bus arranged by the government.

7.17 pm

Bus leaves

9.05 pm

We arrive at the back of the hotel and queue for check-in. The hotel is in Longxi, a small town about 40km (25 miles) from downtown Huizhou.

Medical staff give me a Covid-19 throat sample test. I’m asked if I have sleeping problems or other medical issues.

My passport is given back to me and the check-in process is done. I go to my room. Outside the door are three bottles of water and a green plastic bucket with some daily necessities.

Hotel prepares dinner: tonight it’s braised chicken with mushrooms and vegetables, served in a disposable food container.

Day 2

8.15 am

I have a decent sleep and the hotel room is bigger than my Hong Kong flat.

After washing my face and brushing my teeth, I open my room door to collect my breakfast. Today’s menu is steamed rice roll with meat and eggs, one of my favorite Cantonese dishes.

10.13 am

A worker in PPE knocks on my door to take my temperature and make sure I am symptom-free. I’m told I will have mandatory temperature checks twice a day until the last day of my quarantine.

12.15 pm

A food delivery worker in PPE presses my doorbell, drops off my food on a folding chair and flees.

5.30 pm

It’s time for the second round of temperature checks.

Day 3

I call reception to cancel my hotel food as I find out there are various regional cuisines available nearby and the delivery fee is less than 60 US cents. Tonight I have some typical Chinese barbeque, including sausage, chicken wings, grilled lamb skewers and fried rice noodles. The bill comes to US$7.50.

Day 4

I hear some kind of machine making a noise outside. It happens twice a day. I decided to check it out and look through the peephole. Ahh! A hotel worker is cleaning and sanitizing my room door and the corridor carpet.

Day 5

It’s the weekend and I’m awake by 11am. Today’s temperature checker comes much later than on the weekdays. A friend of mine drives 30km to bring me some bubble tea. This is the highlight of my day! She also brings me some milk and a bottle of Lao Gan Ma, a beloved brand of black bean chilli sauce.

Day 6

Quarantine got me thinking about the little things. I miss coffee shops in my Hong Kong neighbourhood. I console myself by making a latte.

Day 7

It’s a sunny afternoon, I hear some noises coming from the hallway while I’m working at my desk. I put on my mask, go to the door and find three of my neighbours at their doorways and chatting across the corridor. They are talking about the hotel food and new rules on home quarantine.

Day 8

I’m still working so I set up my temporary office in the part of the room that has the strongest Wi-fi signal, but this afternoon at 5pm my internet connection suddenly cuts out. The hotel receptionist tells me the Wi-fi might not be available until tomorrow because the internet service staff will be off work soon. I ran out of my mobile data on my second day of quarantine, the only thing I can do is to watch TV and jog back and forth between the door and window.

Day 9

My mum texts me this morning and tells me not to order food. She is going to prepare a big meal for me. It is the first time I have had homemade food after nine days of takeaway.

Day 10

Nine days of indoor life encourages me to eat too much and be less active. I think I should make some effort to lose my quarantine weight gain. The Wi-fi reception is terrible but I still spent 16 hours downloading a 6GB dance game to force myself to move. Dancing at least half an hour after dinner becomes part of my daily routine.

Day 11

I actually quite enjoy my current social isolation. I have spare time to reorganise my life, meditate and recharge. I've been a classic night owl for years, but the daily routine of morning inspection encourages me to switch my brain off before 11.30pm.

Day 12

I’m woken up by tens of photos sent by my high school friends as today is the wedding of one of our best friends. The ceremony is taking place just 1½ hours from my hotel. They livestream the big day for me via WeChat. It’s a great day today.

Day 13

I feel a bit of excitement as I inch closer to freedom. I move my chair near the door to wait for the temperature checker. I thought today would be my last Covid test but the medical worker tells me that the date of arrival in Huizhou is not counted as the first day of quarantine.

Day 14

I have my throat swab at 10.12am. The medical worker says I will be able to leave the hotel tomorrow from noon if my Covid test result is negative. I start to pack my belongings after I finish work and order a big meal to celebrate my last night here.

Day 15

I wake up at 9am. The results of my Covid test have already been recorded on my health code system. Around 10.30 am, a hotel worker calls me and informs me to check out on the sixth floor.

It is the first time I’ve been allowed to leave my room in two weeks. I see there are three lifts in the building - the one on the left is for hotel staff, the middle one is for medical workers and the one on the right for quarantined travellers.

I arrive on the sixth floor and pay my quarantine bill via WeChat. The total is 2,700 yuan (US$417) including 14 nights and three meals. An employee then gives me my quarantine completion certificate and a paper copy of my negative Covid-19 test.

I’m finally released and allowed to return to life as normal.

Creative Director Darren Long.
Edited by Samantha Kierath and Robert Burton-Bradley

Hi, Internet Explorer user!

This site has some features that may not be compatlibe with your browser. Should you wish to view content, switch browsers to either Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox to get an awesome experience