A guide: Getting a COVID-19 test after landing in Shanghai

Andy Boreham
Shanghai has enforced strict new measures on anyone coming back from 24 countries and regions (including transit), which may include taking a novel coronavirus test.
Andy Boreham

Shanghai has enforced strict new measures on anyone coming back from 24 countries and regions (including transit), which may include taking a novel coronavirus test. I went through the process myself, and this is my guide. 

What are the rules?

Anyone coming back to Shanghai from 24 countries (see below), including merely transiting in an airport – or having been to any of those countries in the previous 14 days – will be required to follow strict new rules on arrival back in the city. That includes strict, 14-day quarantine either at an approved hotel (at your cost) or at your own home (with conditions). If you prefer home quarantine, you will need to take a novel coronavirus test and wait for the results before being allowed to head home. 

What are the 24 countries?

Australia, Malaysia, Greece, the Czech Republic, Finland, Qatar, Canada, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Japan, France, Spain, Germany, the United States, the UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria.

What happens at the airport?

When you land, your plane will be boarded by health officials who will either process you on the plane, or invite you to enter the airport to go through the immigration process. You will have your temperature taken multiple times, and each person will be questioned to ascertain where they have been. If you’re from the 24 countries on the list, you will be given a yellow sticker. If you’re not, your sticker will be green. Those with symptoms will receive a red sticker and medical attention. 

After you go through immigration you will need to show your sticker color. If it’s green you’re free to go home. If it’s yellow you will be sent into a new line where you need to locate the counter for your district. I live in Jing’an District, and was therefore processed by Jing’an nurses and police, and soon directed to a bus which would take myself and other Jing’an returnees to the local testing center. The novel coronavirus test is not taken at the airport. You may need to wait a few hours until a bus comes, and once you’re on board you may need to wait a few hours for other returnees to arrive. Please try to be patient, and bring water and snacks as they are not available on the bus. 

A guide: Getting a COVID-19 test after landing in Shanghai

The sun rises as a quarantined bus, filled with passengers waiting to be tested, waits outside the Pengpu Town Community Health Service Center in Jing'an District.

What happens at the testing center?

Firstly, it’s important to note that, depending on your area and the conditions there, you may be waiting for a few hours before you enter the testing center. My bus arrived after midnight and we spent eight hours on board since there were two more buses in front of us. Nurses in the centers work 24 hours per day, but the process is slow. Be prepared for a long wait.

Once you’re finally inside you will be seated and registered. Then you can do your COVID-19 tests one by one, which simply requires a swab of the back of the throat. No blood is taken. 

From the time your sample is taken, you will need to wait for 8-12 hours for the result to come back. At that time, again depending on your area, you will either be taken by bus to a designated hotel to wait for the results, or you will be made to stay in a room in the testing center, sometimes alone and sometimes with others. I was in a room with two other strangers, and the room had one bare hospital bed and four chairs. We also had to pay for our own food (45 yuan $US6.35) each meal with no choices or requests taken – you cannot order takeout but can eat anything you brought in with you. Others in our group were sent to hotels where they had their own room and free food. 

After 13 hours, slightly over the time-frame we were given, our results came back and our communities began notifying people they were approved for home quarantine. You may not hear at the same time, because it may be the communities who tell you that you were negative and that you have been approved for home quarantine, not the nurses at the testing center. Don’t get nervous about not receiving your results when others have. 

You may also receive numerous calls from your landlord, neighborhood committee and local police during the day as they will quickly be notified of your travel history. Some people also receive no calls at all. 

Once your entire group has been approved, you will need to wait again for a bus to come back and take you home. You cannot freely travel home, despite your test result, and it may be a few hours on top of the already very long process for a bus to be free. I waited an additional four hours.

After the bus arrives at your hotel or health center, you will be signed off under strict quarantine conditions to the nurse in charge of the bus. This also takes time, so please be patient. From there, you will all be dropped off at home in the order the nurse decides based on locations and other considerations. Again, please try to be patient. 

A guide: Getting a COVID-19 test after landing in Shanghai

The early morning sun lights up the inside of the clinic as we wait to be tested.

A guide: Getting a COVID-19 test after landing in Shanghai

Some passengers will be sent to designated hotels to await their test results. I wasn't one of the lucky ones, and shared this room in the clinic with two others.

What happens once I arrive home?

When you arrive home, you will need to be met by a neighborhood committee member, or the security staff will have to have been told prior about your arrival. This may be done on your behalf without anyone telling you, especially if you don’t speak Chinese, but if you’re worried you can ask in English. 

Who can quarantine at home?

If you live alone and your neighborhood committee deems your home satisfactory, you can quarantine at home. If you have family or roommates at home, you can only quarantine there if everyone in your household also agrees to quarantine. This will make the process longer but it is possible, and you should make your situation known to staff at the testing center. 

Your juweihui (neighborhood committee) will be notified on your behalf and then someone will be in touch with you while you wait for your results. They also might not get in touch, especially if you don’t speak Chinese. 

Once home, you will be visited by officials who will have forms for you to sign regarding your quarantine after they explain the rules. You will need to take your temperature twice a day and remain inside for the entire 14 days. You can order food and other deliveries online, and they will be delivered outside your door by volunteers or other staff. This will probably be organized through a WeChat group officials will set up for you. You will also need to let them know via WeChat if any symptoms arise. 

A magnetic device may be installed outside your door which will notify officials when it is opened. If that is the case, you will need to notify them in your WeChat group when you need to open the door, for example if you want to collect a delivery from outside your door or place your rubbish there to be collected by volunteers. 

A guide: Getting a COVID-19 test after landing in Shanghai

An official from my neighborhood committee signs off to move my quarantine from the bus to my home.

A guide: Getting a COVID-19 test after landing in Shanghai

Quarantine buses are escorted by police as they drop passengers home following their negative test results.

When will I have to quarantine in a hotel?

If you can’t or don’t want to quarantine at home, or you simply don't want to undergo the process of getting a novel coronavirus test, you will need to choose from a designated hotel. The staff at the testing center will help you decide. You need to cover the cost yourself, and there are various prices, from 200 to 400 yuan (US$28 to $56.50) per night. 

On top of that, you will have to pay for set food that will be delivered to your room three times a day. You cannot make requests and you cannot order any outside food. 

This is a strict quarantine, and you will not be allowed to leave your hotel room for two weeks. You will also need to take your temperature twice a day and notify officials about any symptoms or other needs, usually via a WeChat group they will set up. 

A guide: Getting a COVID-19 test after landing in Shanghai

In the early morning after I arrived home from my test, local health officials arrived to lay out the rules, answer questions, and attach a magnetic device to the door so that they will be notified every time it is opened.

When is quarantine over?

Officials will help you work out your quarantine dates and will take into account the time you spent in quarantine waiting for your test results. You will not be able to leave home without another official procedure at the end of your quarantine, so please wait to be contacted by officials, even if the day your quarantine ends has arrived. 

In summary, be patient…

This is a lengthy and tiring process, but remember that it’s many times more difficult for nurses, drivers, police, volunteers and other staff who need to ensure COVID-19 isn’t released back into Shanghai. Please try to be patient, and prepare yourself mentally for a long and tiring experience. You never know, it may be a lot quicker in your area. Good luck! 

Andy's vlog on his whole experience coming back to Shanghai and undergoing a test for novel coronavirus will be online on Saturday 21 March.

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