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The two teachers and their two children were in the Philippines on a Lunar New Year holiday from Shanghai when the outbreak took hold. With their school shut down in China, they decided to fly to New Zealand where friends in their old neighbourhood put them up. Six weeks later, last Wednesday night, they got one of the the last flights out of Auckland to Shanghai. It was Thursday morning when they landed and, by afternoon, they were back in their apartment in Shanghai. What happened  in the seven hours between the landing and their safe return home revealed not only their own courage and pluck, but the extraordinary efforts the Chinese state has made to control the pandemic, as life there slowly returns to normal. That night, fearful of another outbreak, China shut down virtually all international flights.

Their seat numbers were among the first to be called, along with those of a handful of families with children. They were escorted down the steps and boarded a bus on the tarmac. Inside the terminal, surrounded by people in white suits and masks everywhere, officials checked their temperatures, questioned them about health forms they had completed on the plane and installed a QR code on their phones that established their city district. Next, they received a green sticker on their passports. At yet another desk, more officials making copies of their health declaration and a second temperature read. Having cleared immigration, they approached a desk designated for their city district. Along with their bags, the four of them and one other man boarded another bus for a quick drive through empty streets to a dimly lit institutional building. There they endured nasal and throat swabs that proved to be the worst part of the whole experience. At their residential compound nearby, guards helped them load another QR code and checked their passports. Finally, seven hours after landing and a 12-hour flight, they were home. The next day the Chairman of the Residents Committee told them their tests were negative and, to their amazement, they were free to go out as long as they wore the mandatory mask and had regular temperature checks at the gate. On Monday they will be back in class — online for now — determined to complete their commitment to their students.

Outside Pudong International Airport: Temperature checks, QR codes and a swab for COVID

Robert Lewis

Twelve years in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, former Editor-in-Chief at Maclean's, author "Power, Prime Ministers and the Press" (2018, Dundurn; available as audiobook).


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