A free man, yet again

Things were very chaotic this Saturday. On Friday afternoon 11/11 the Chinese government announced that they had changed the quarantine requirements from 7+3 (=10 days) to 5+3 (=8 days). I was excited on Friday because the next day, Saturday 11/12, would be my 8th day in quarantine. I had my Chinese admin call the hotel on Friday and it turned out the hotel hadn’t received any new updates yet. Friends also tempered my enthusiasm by telling me that it would take days for the new regulations to be implemented and that I probably wouldn’t benefit from them.

Much to my surprise I got a COVID test on Saturday and they swiped my room and bathroom for COVID traces. They had never swept the rooms before, and I wasn’t scheduled to get a COVID test until the 10th day Monday. My head was spinning. Either this was the preparation for my release, or they had detected COVID in the hotel and were sweeping the rooms. The later would be bad because it would certainly increase my quarantine period.

I Wechatted with a friend who had gone through this recently and he was surprised too. The swiping of the room is what they do on the last day, but he was also the one who told me not to get my hopes up. At least my concerns about a COVID outbreak were reduced. I called my Chinese admin on her day off and asked her to reach out to the hotel. She did and while the hotel still hadn’t received any directions from the government to release people under the new guidelines, they had received orders to prepare folks like me and do an environment test for us.

Now my hopes were up. I immediately started packing and the rest of Saturday I was anxiously waiting for a call telling me that I was good to go. Dinner time came but no call. 9pm came, the original time I checked into the hotel 8×24 hours ago, but no call. At 11pm I called it quits and went to bed. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be released today.

At 1am I was brutely woken up by a buzzing hotel telephone. It was the operator, and I was told that I was free to go. Of course, I wasn’t ready, I didn’t have a driver waiting nor did I have a hotel reservation. This was all planned for Monday. After some back and forth the operator agreed that I can leave at 8am the next day, Sunday. I then checked my health code, but it was still red. A red health code makes you essentially persona non-grata so clearly the COVID tracking systems hadn’t kept up with the new regulations.

The dreaded red QR code. If its red or yellow, you won’t get into a building.

When I woke up at 6am, my health code was still red. Obviously this is going to cause an extra set of complications. I did check the app and found a way to complain about its status, but you had to submit evidence with that. That would have to wait until I checked out and got my release papers. Needless to say, all these instructions in the app were in Chinese, so I was taking screenshots on my phone and piping those into translation apps to figure out what was going on.

At 8am I was fully packed and ready to go. As instructed, I was waiting for a quarantine hotel employee to pick me up, but nobody came. Around 8:30am my admin texted me that the release had been delayed until 9am. Again, at 9am I was ready. I saw folks leaving from the hotel front door, my room overlooked the hotel entrance, at a slow trickle. Around 10am my health code turned green. That was huge relief, I didn’t have to file a complaint.

Finally, it went green at around 10am on Saturday. Notice the tracker at the bottom that shows how many hours it was since your last negative COVID test.

However, at 10:30am still no one had come to my room. I was getting anxious, and I asked my admin to call the hotel. Apparently, they were very busy. With the new regulations they were releasing many more folks than originally planned and I was asked to be patient. Slowly more guests left the hotel until at one point there was only one car waiting by the gate. That was my car as far as I could tell from the picture the driver had sent me. I called the hotel operator and was put through to the doctor’s office, who didn’t speak any English and I was told to wait. Around 11:30am I asked my admin to call the hotel again. Guess what, they had forgotten about me. So finally, around noon I was escorted out of the building. As I walked out, I was given a piece of paper that said I had successfully finished my quarantine and that was it. What can I say, excitement until the very last moment.

I could see the quarantine guests leave the hotel one by one. The parked car in the lower left is mine.
It’s official. I’m cleared for entry into China.
One final look at the hotel entrance. The racks on the right are for the individual deliveries.

Once I was in my car (yes, my car, I have a car and driver assigned for the duration of my stay in Shanghai for some reason) things went smoothly. I checked into my non-quarantine hotel, and I had to show the familiar health and travel codes (see my previous blog entry).

The health code has been updated though. It now also shows the time of your last negative COVID test. I’m expected to get a COVID test every 3-days and the government has distributed more than 5000 free test points across Shanghai for this. I’ll talk more about this in a future blog entry after I’ve taken my first non-quarantine test. For now, I’m going to enjoy my freedom and grab a beer with a friend and have dinner with another friend at a North Korean state-owned restaurant (I guess it’s the experience?). It’s good to be back!

A familiar and obligatory picture from my regular hotel room in Shanghai.

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