After having traveled extensively in Europe in pandemic times, I had to come home for work. A special flight: supervising cargo to China, where the Covid-19 pandemic started. Before we leave, we need to download a Chinese app on our phones, fill out data, after which we receive a QR code. It is great to be back on the 747-400, the Queen of the Skies, who had been hastily retired in March, but taken back into production for cargo flights. It is very likely our very last flight on the iconic plane.
Before arriving in Shanghai, we take our temperatures. Any person found with more than 37.2C will have to directly fly back to Europe, to prevent being put into quarantine in China. We arrive on a platform, and are given plastic bags with a sandwich, fruit, chocolates, two cans of soft drinks, a salad and water bottles upon our arrival in Shanghai. We then are guided through multiple checkpoints, with officers in protective clothing. Our temperature is checked several times, our QR codes scanned, and we are then escorted through a completely empty international airport.
Well, not completely empty: there are tables with staff, always in protective clothing. They are either playing with their phones, or sleeping on relaxing chairs. I wonder what they are waiting for, as there do not seem to be any passengers at all. When we exit the international area, we suddenly find ourselves in a crowd. Restaurants are full, shops are open, people are walking everywhere with no distancing at all - but all are wearing masks. After the empty terminal, the contrast is enormous.
We are quickly guided to the exit, and enter a hotel through a backdoor. We are received by staff barely recognizable as humans, in white protective clothing. I cannot even tell men or women apart. We have to sign a declaration that we will not leave our rooms, with a 3 to 7 year imprisonment as a penalty in case we do. We take as much water as we can carry. One of the white suits takes us to our rooms and closes the door behind us.
When the door closes behind me, I know that I am locked in for 24 hours. I do not even have a key. It feels weird. Normally, I would be full of plans to explore the city, take my camera and leave. Now, I am confined in a small room that looks pretty bare. Only one of the two beds is made. I find a plastic bag with soap, a toilet roll, and a small bag with 20 chloride pills that I need to put into the toilet one hour before using it. I put a sign on my door asking the staff to advise me when my meals are delivered.
Fortunately, the window can be opened, so I will at least have fresh air. I read, I write, and I sleep. Meals are delivered on a small table outside my room, and I make sure to not close the door when I get them. Inside a big plastic bags, I find smaller bags, with tepid airplane food. I am at least happy that I find fruit in every bag I get (wrapped in plastic) - more than I can even eat.