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Hong Kong to Shanghai in 12 hours - by air. A business travel odyssey

Analysis

The blow by blow story which follows is of a Hong Kong businessman's travel to Shanghai for a business trip.

It illustrates in detail the care the Chinese government is taking to prevent the importation of new infections.

It is a vastly different experience from Johnny Thorsen's casual passage through Germany, following arrival at Frankfurt aircraft, described in detail in California to Denmark in 36 hours – by air: Johnny’s travel odyssey

China - and most Asia Pacific countries - have experienced second waves of infection as they relaxed lockdown rules and even allowed foreign entry. They have since adopted a much more cautious approach to opening up and many still impose strict quarantine requirements, even where, as in this case, the travel is specifically approved for business reasons.

European countries however have disparate provisions, often with specific exemptions for EU citizens, no matter where their travel originated.

Achieving global travel standards is a multilateral challenge. There is a mountain to be climbed before we can seriously talk extensive reopening

The purpose of laying out the contrast between the Hong Kong-Shanghai experience and Johnny Thorsen's passage through Frankfurt Airport is not to judge one approach against another.
See: California to Denmark in 36 hours – by air: Johnny’s travel odyssey

The point in putting these two experiences side by side is to illustrate the vast difference in approach between jurisdictions to combatting the spread of coronavirus - and the mountain that remains to be climbed before the international air travel experience can be harmonised.

With around 150 countries imposing entry quarantine conditions, clearly it will be a considerable time before the pre-2020 airline networks can be reconstituted. But it will be vital - if only to provide comfort to encourage passengers back into the air - to develop global norms for ensuring health and safety throughout the entire travel journey.

A businessman's early Jun-2020 business travel experience from Hong Kong to Shanghai

The following blow by blow account of a long day's journey between Hong Kong - relatively free of coronavirus - to Shanghai represents another odyssey

  • Booked on China Eastern from Hong Kong to Shanghai for a business trip - to be held in two weeks' time, as the Chinese mainland requires two weeks' quarantine.

  • My China Eastern flight was cancelled at the last minute

8:30am arrived Hong Kong Airport early, due to cancellation of the originally booked flight

  • On arrival I ran around the different airlines’ airport counters, finally persuading Cathay Dragon to sell me a seat.

  • In Hong Kong Airport, all staff wore masks, including immigration officers and airline staff, the majority of them only normal masks - no-one was wearing PPE. Like everyone else, I wore a mask at all times during my journey.

  • As there were minimal passengers in the terminal and ALL shops were closed, except two fast food restaurants, social distancing is basically automatic

11:40 Cathay Dragon departs Hong Kong Airport

  • In the aircraft, all flight attendants wore masks. Again no PPE. 

  • I was in a wide-body A330, with a maximum 50 passengers in the aircraft altogether, so again there were plenty of empty seats for social distancing. I was the only person in my entire row.

  • As soon as we boarded, the flight attendants handed out sanitising wet towels

  • Food was served but there was no choice. All food and drink was delivered on one tray and the bread was enclosed inside a plastic bag; drinks were all in bottles/cans, with no open pouring drinks. I chose not to eat at all to mitigate the risk.

14:00 aircraft lands Shanghai Pudong airport

  • No passengers were allowed to disembark from the aircraft until the quarantine staff, in full protective gear had measured temperatures for all passengers on board.

  • In Pudong Airport, ALL staff were wearing full PPE gear, including immigration officers, customs officers, health officers - even toilet cleaning staff wore PPE. There were no exceptions.

  A person standing in front of a refrigerator Description automatically generated

14:30 we were allowed to enter the terminal.

  • Then lined up for the first quarantine questionnaire round. While lining up for this first round of health check, we experienced the largest number of people together, with about 20 people lining up. This was the only moment without full social distancing.  Other arrival passengers, all wore masks, not PPE. A few passengers wore full gear protective clothing, but they didn't seem to be professional PPE.

  • Next, we lined up for questionning by a designated health officer, one-on-one.

15:00 The officer provides each passenger with a unique QR code via mobile.

  • This QR code is to be the movement pass for my entire stay in Shanghai.
  • When I passed through immigration, customs and then boarding the coach later this code had to be scanned

15:15, A second temperature test with infrared scanning

  • The new temperature check was followed by ear scanning - by another team of health officers.

  • Then we each had to sign one more declaration form.

  • Next, we made a long walk to an outside area at the airport apron for health staff to take a full throat test sample for a COVID test. (Presumably doing this in an open area offers better ventilation and lower health risk). 

15:30, We passed through immigration control.

  • This process becomes completely touchless now. No need to even press the fingerprint machine, using facial recognition technology entirely.

15:40, I picked up my luggage and exited the restricted area.

  • In the arrival hall, the option is either turn left - for Shanghai-based citizens who can opt for quarantine at home - or turn right for those who are non-Shanghainese and must take 14 days mandatory quarantine in assigned hotels.

  • The officer there scans my QR code once again.

  • Then we need to fill out further information, including which district we are planning to do business in Shanghai. This determines which hotel we will be assigned to. 

16:15, The staff inform me which coach to board

  • Before boarding the coach, the QR code needs to be scanned again. (When a lady scanned the QR code after me a siren sounded loudly - she was trying to board the wrong coach. The QR code works!)

16:30, Our coach departs for the hotel.

  • During the ride, an officer informs us about the general guidelines, rules for our quarantine

  • We were all required to join a “WeChat” (Chinese messaging) group. We were then told to go to our WeChat app to fill in more personal information.

17:15, We arrived at the hotel.

  • The hotel is completely sealed off with fences all round. All the exits are guarded, with multiple police presence very evident.

  • All luggage was sprayed with sanitiser liquid as it was taken out of the bus.

  • We were told which rooms we were allocated and needed to scan the our QR code in order to get access to the room. No room keys were provided.

  • We are escorted one by one to our rooms with an officer

  • While walking to the room, the officer warned us there were lots of CCTV monitors and advised we can open our doors to come outside the room to pick up our meals.

18:15, I finally reached my room!

18:45, Dinner arrived.

Now for 14 days’ quarantine before I can attend my meeting

  •  I am now confined to my hotel room for 14 days. If after further testing I am COVID-free, I can attend my conference

  • This hotel holiday is not a free ride, as my company bears the cost – a relatively modest RMB 250 per night hotel + RMB 50 for food one day (USD1= RMB7.1). And of course the wifi works!

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