Within a few days you develop a Pavlovian reflex. Faced with the encouragement of the muffled footsteps on the hallway carpet, you make room in the table. It’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, finally announced with two knocks on the door. These beings clad in white suits, with eyes barely sensed behind the visor and slow movements, are the most human you will see in two weeks. Perhaps during the process you will also meet the neighbor in the next room to exchange a brief greeting before the alarm reminds you that your door has been open too long.
The rigorous quarantine in a hotel is mandatory for those who return to China after several months stranded by the closing of the skies. He anticipates a problem that governments that embryo the coronavirus and must shield themselves from the external threat will have to deal with. China was introduced as early as March, with the virus receding at home and global outbreaks on the rise, and went from seeing how the world banned its flights to banning outsiders. Some planes had landed in China with dozens of infected and a handful of escapes from the homebound had disturbed the population. The controlled quarantine seemed the ideal solution to continue with the repatriation without putting public health at risk. It has worked: China has more than a month without local infections and the immediate detection and isolation of imported ones makes them safe.
Lack of visas
The return to China is still complex. Flights are four times their usual price and are scarce, so you land where you can and not where you want. The hotel quarantine, however, makes the destination less relevant. Only Chinese and foreigners who had a residence permit before the pandemic are allowed to fly because for now there are no student or business visas issued. The process requires a PCR test in the three days prior to the flight which must be validated by the Chinese embassy, another after landing at the same airport and prior to the immediate transfer by coach to the hotel, and the last one on the eve of the end of the confinement. With three negative tests in just over two weeks comes the long-awaited green code that, displayed on the mobile, accredits as healthy and allows free movement throughout the country.
This is not the chronicle of torment. For this correspondent, Mediterranean and with serious difficulties to deal with closed spaces, the quarantine was pleasant and even brief. Homework ends with the twice-daily communication of body temperature through a phone app. The rest is the intimate management of an ocean of hours after assimilating that that room thought of as a transit or overnight place will be your universe. The hotel is more than worthy, the food is balanced and sufficient, a generous window prevents claustrophobia and the staff helps as much as possible with kindness. They allow you to buy food at home and only restrict alcohol. The discomforts are reduced to those meals served at 7 am, 12 pm and 5 pm that are difficult to accommodate vital rhythms if you have just crossed seven time zones. It is also advisable to take care of the sheets and towels because there is no cleaning service. Others have had less luck and have ended up in cheap chain hotels, with narrow rooms, better hygiene and spicy food.
China was a pioneer but not the only one in Asia. Other countries impose quarantines controlled by technological means. Even Thailand, with a GDP more dependent on tourism than Spain, has preserved public health with devastating lockdowns for the economy. The adoption of forced quarantines in the rest of the world will require a paradigm shift less related to the democracy-dictatorship duality than to social responsibility: understanding that two weeks of confinement are not a violation of human rights or individual freedoms but rather a affordable price for recovering the job, reuniting with the family or sharing a life without coronavirus with those who eradicated it after many efforts.