A Tale of COVID-19

It’s a sidestep from technology, but a moment in time to remember. Here’s a chronicle of my experiences throughout the COVID-19 developments. Grey boxes are excerpts of emails sent by either the US Embassy or my school’s leadership.

Jan 7th

Health Alert – Pneumonia of Unknown Cause in China

Location: Wuhan, Hankou area

Event: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an Watch Level 1 Alert (be aware and practice usual precautions) for a pneumonia outbreak of unknown cause Wuhan, China.

January 7th was the 2nd day back to work after the winter holiday and I shared this email with a few people because of how strange I found the wording. The US Embassy sends approximately 2 emails a year, usually warnings about arbitrary enforcement of laws or extreme pollution. This one was strangely specific, yet so vague.

Jan 15th

Health Alert Update – Novel Coronavirus in China

Location: Wuhan, Hankou area

Event: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Watch Level 1 Alert (be aware and practice usual precautions) for an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, preliminarily identified to be caused by a novel (new) coronavirus.

The same alert is sent again, but updated from pneumonia to a novel coronavirus. At this point, my Chinese colleagues are hearing about it in the news, but it remains completely contained in Wuhan. It’s not a point of conversation among my colleagues yet.

Jan 18

This is a significant date because it’s the day I flew from Shanghai to Los Angeles to spend three weeks with my family during the Chinese New Year Holiday. In the car on the way to the airport, I read an article about how the US was considering additional health checks for flights arriving from Wuhan and possibly other Chinese cities. I boarded the flight wondering if there would be additional screenings upon landing. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary on arrival. Happy to be home!

Jan 22

Embassy resends the previous alert.

Jan 23

I received my first communication from school about the virus.

Dear teachers:

You may now receive or read many news and reports regarding the outbreak of a new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and you may wonder about what is the situation now in China especially in Wuxi and our school.

So far we receive government report every day regarding the data for the confirmed cases and suspected cases. Jiangsu Province where we are situated is by far the least affected area, with only one case confirmed in Suzhou this morning. Wuxi has not had any confirmed or suspected case yet. We know this might be a matter of time. But we all hope the best for our city.

Wuhan, where the virus is originated from, is now locked down this morning in battle of further spread. All transportation to and from Wuhan is now stopped. Nobody from Wuhan is allowed to enter Wuxi. Through this way, we wish that the virus could be controlled in a relatively better situation. As a school who cares about our students and staff most, we sent out a letter on Jan 21 to remind all parents about the prevention of the virus. At the same time we canceled all winter camps including the ones at our campus and the ones in other cities. Our operation team had now increased stock for thermometers, masks and disinfectant etc. to prepare for the opening of the second semester. We are now in close contact with our local education and epidemic prevention departments and will implement measures in accordance with the highest standards…

Followed by another Embassy alert

Health Alert Update – Novel Coronavirus in China

Location: Wuhan, Hankou area

Exercise increased caution in China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan:

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Watch Level 2 Alert (Practice Enhanced Precautions) for an ongoing outbreak of pneumonia first identified in Wuhan, China, caused by a novel (new) coronavirus.

In an effort to contain the novel coronavirus, the Chinese authorities have suspended travel from Wuhan.  Be aware that planned travel within China may be disrupted.

Jan 24

China Travel Advisory Update: Level 4-Do Not Travel to Hubei Province

Level 4: Do not travel to Hubei province, China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China:

There is an ongoing outbreak of pneumonia first identified in Wuhan, China, caused by a novel (new) coronavirus.  In an effort to contain the novel coronavirus, the Chinese authorities have suspended air and rail travel in the area around Wuhan.  On January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province.

Chinese authorities have imposed strict travel restrictions in the area around Wuhan.  Travelers should be aware that the Chinese government could prevent them from entering or exiting parts of Hubei province.  Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Warning Level 3 Alert (Avoid Nonessential Travel) due to an ongoing outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that can be spread from person to person.

Jan 25

Dear teachers:

I would like to update you on the latest announcement form Wuxi Education Bureau regarding the need to delay of the opening of the second semester. Just an hour ago we received the formal announcement that all the schools need to delay the opening for one week, from Feb 10 to Feb 17. During the one week, students study at home.

—- would follow government instruction on this. Thus please be aware that all staff are expected to be back as normal and work from home for the week of Feb 10 (Monday) to Feb l4 (Friday) to ensure an adequate quarantine period at home before school starts. Class assignments will be delivered digitally during the one week and a full disinfection of school premises will be made before the resumption of school. Details such as staff planning, prep and work to be sent home for students, the SLT will meet to discuss the requirements of that week and will send formal information via email to you in your school section later.

Hope this clarifies the message. Again, any concerns you have or further query please email. Enjoy rest of your holiday.

I keep my return flight scheduled for Feb 6th.

Jan 29

…Given the current directives from the Wuxi government, and the guidelines provided by —- Head Office to its schools in Wuxi and Hangzhou, we ask that all our teachers return to Wuxi on or by 9 February to allow time for rest and preparation before the 17 February start.  We recognize that the current situation may have caused disruptions to travel plans.  If that is the case, we understand if you do not get back to Wuxi until some point between 9 and 16 February.  Of course, if there are any difficulties brought about by factors outside of your control, please let us know.  However, it needs to be emphasized once again that the School will reopen on Monday 17 February, unless directed otherwise by the Wuxi government…

Jan 30

Dad and I went to Disneyland.

I cancelled my original return flight scheduled for Feb 6th while standing in line for Millennium Falcon. The following day, Delta cancelled the flight completely.

This was the day that all non-US citizens arriving from China would be barred entry by Presidential Proclamation.

Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. On January 30, the World Health Organization has determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.  Commercial carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China.

Those currently in China should consider departing using commercial means. The Department of State has requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel to China in light of the novel coronavirus.

In an effort to contain the novel coronavirus, the Chinese authorities have suspended air, road, and rail travel in the area around Wuhan and placed restrictions on travel and other activities throughout the country. On January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members from Wuhan. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Warning for all of China.

Feb 2

Dear Colleagues,

We would like to give you an update on recent developments in the School’s response to the current situation.

Measures taken by many countries to curb the spread of the coronavirus have made it increasingly difficult for all of our expatriate teachers to return to work by the 17 February.  Some colleagues are in their home country whist others are still on vacation in various parts of the world.  We understand the difficulties some of you may be facing in making arrangements for a return to Wuxi.

As yet, the Wuxi government has not made an official announcement regarding a new date for the reopening of its schools.  However, indications are that the province of Jiangsu might push the school opening into March. But it would take at least another week for the government to make final decision as the development of the situation is closely monitored. We shall tell you the new update as soon as we have confirmation from the authorities…

Feb 5

Hope you are all well no matter which country or city you are. We are now experiencing a sentimental time in China due to the novel coronavirus. As we communicated before, China is now making great efforts to control the situation.

At the moment, Wuxi is at a better situation compared with other cities. Up till now we only had 26 confirmed cases of the 6 million population in Wuxi including Jiangyin and Yixing, and we had already have one patient who are cured and discharged from hospital. Living in Wuxi I am confident that we will tackle this.

I received a verbal confirmation late last night that we would NOT open our school in this February. We will need wait further announcement for the date to open in March. Currently I assume it would be March 2. But again this need to be finalized by local authorities. Each of you will make your own decision when you can return to Wuxi based on your current location, airlines, trains, other logistics and your personal safety. —- and I would happy to support as long as you 1. keep us or HR informed of your plan 2. be available at the time when you are required to give online classes/distance teaching.

For those of you who choose to come back, please be aware that current policy is that you need stay 14 days at your flat before back to work/school if you take public transportation such as airplane, train, ferry, coach. You would NOT be locked up or sealed as some of the rumor mentioned. Only those who come back from the two highly risky area-Wuhan or Wenzhou will be closely monitored. And if you choose to stay, you are fully covered in terms of medical insurance even if your home country issued level 1 emergency notice. We had one expat teacher who flied back to Wuxi airport. He managed to be back home without any trouble.

As required by government that we still need offer other ways to help our students to study at home. After a lot of discussion and testing with HQ, IT department, we finally decided to use Microsoft Teams as the main platform for online courses. I believe you have now all received the instruction menu from —-. We will start from Feb 10. This would be the first trial week for all of us. You may receive specific arrangements, timetables and instructions from your Head of School.

Your main job now is to prepare to teach your courses online from wherever you are located. If you do not have laptop, internet access etc. do let your line manager know so that appropriate arrangement could be made. Your other job is to keep —- and I or HR informed about your travel plans. As always your number one job is to keep you and your family healthy and safe. If you need any support please let us know.

Until now, I was nervous that I was the only person being stubborn about booking a return flight. However, I feel a lot better knowing that only 1 of roughly 80 international staff have returned!

Feb 16

Dear colleagues

I would like to update you on the latest developments regarding the reopening of the School.  On an almost daily basis, Principal —, —, and myself have asked the authorities for an update on their plans for the reopening of schools in the Wuxi District.  To date, we have not received official communication from the Department of Education regarding any extension to the 2 March date they announced earlier.

A few days ago, the Department of Education in Hangzhou instructed — {our sister school} — to begin calling back teachers from overseas.  In light of this, Chinese and expatriate teachers at — have been asked to return to Hangzhou to prepare for the opening of the school.  The tentative school reopening date in Hangzhou is also 2 March.  In conversations with other schools in Wuxi, it is evident that they are also preparing for a 2 March reopening and asking their expatriate teachers to return from overseas.

In light of these developments, I ask that colleagues currently overseas make arrangements to return to Wuxi at the earliest opportunity, in anticipation of a 2 March reopening.  As is the case at — Hangzhou, a return to Wuxi by 20 February will provide a small buffer should school resume on the 2 March.  All returning teachers are required to self-quarantine for 14 days in their apartment as a precaution.  Please note that supermarkets and petrol stations are open.  Indeed, people across the city are gradually returning to work as more businesses reopen.

I ask that you keep HR informed of your travel arrangements.  This is critical as the authorities must be notified of the date of your return to Wuxi.  Also, notify HR if you experience any difficulty making an airline booking.  There are still airlines flying to China and we can give you advice if this is problematic.  A separate email will be sent to colleagues with regard to travel options between Pudong airport and Wuxi.  We recommend that you pack face masks and hand gels.  Please note that you must wear a face mask when you arrive at the airport.  We already have a good supply of face masks and gels in stock, boosted by a donation this morning of 10,000 face masks from a G1 parent.  If you have any problem getting hold of masks and hand gels then let us know and we can assist you.

It is also important to note that the Wuxi Department of Health will conduct a full inspection of the School, and sign off on our preparedness, prior to reopening.

Clearly, these are challenging times for you, your families and for the School.  We in Wuxi are trying our best to accommodate the many requests received, not only from staff but also from parents.  In this regard, we thank you for your patience and understanding.

Feb 17

I booked a return flight for Feb 22nd. It departs Los Angeles for Osaka. I’ll spend the night in Osaka and then take the direct flight from Osaka to Wuxi airport. Flying directly to Wuxi is the only way I feel comfortable returning at this point. The seat map shows there are 6 people on that flight.

Feb 18

I am writing to update you on certain information that you may need clarification or may have concerns.  —- and I have so far received many positive feedbacks with many of you trying your best to find ways to come back to Wuxi during this week. We appreciate that. Some of you have shared concerns and asked certain questions regarding the quarantine, the way back to you apartment etc. I would like to share some information with all of you.

First of all, I have stayed in Wuxi during this winter break and been through the whole process of the coronavirus epidemic from the beginning till now.  This is the longest ‘home holiday’ I have ever had.   During this time, I have been in touch with our local government on daily basis.  Since the first meeting took place on 22 January, the data collection team at school has been producing detailed reports about every single child and teacher at our School and forwarding that data to the local government on a daily basis.  The information is updated every day, tracking the travel history of staff and students, reporting suspicious contact they may have with people from Wuhan etc.  Similarly, parents have been recording the temperatures of their children every day.  We have been doing this not only to be compliant with government regulations, but also for the well-being of our students.

Although the education authority has not officially declared its final decision on a re-opening date yet, we have been verbally instructed to get ready for early March opening and to make sure that every teacher has satisfied the 14-day healthy record requirement before going back to School.  We have already drafted our proposal for the school re-opening on 2 March, as instructed by the local authorities.   We then will be inspected to see whether or not we satisfy all the health and safety requirements, prior to the school re-opening.  Some of the concerns you have raised – regularity of hand washing, taking of temperatures, student gatherings, dining arrangements and so forth – will fall under the requirements of the Health Department and monitored by the authorities.

The reasons why —- and I made the announcement for you to come back at 20 February were

  1. as instructed by HQ.  Our Hangzhou school is doing the same.
  2. the statistic of Jiangsu Province and Wuxi indicating a dropping risk of being infected
  3. this would give you a buffer for the start of school.  I am sure that you understand that we always put all our teachers’ and students’ health and safety as our first priority and we need to make sure when we return to School, everyone has a good health status.

From the graph attached you can see the virus development process in Jiangsu Province from 22 January to 16 February.  The numbers of confirmed cases every day is dropping. The situation in Jiangsu Province is comparatively speaking very much controlled.  In Wuxi, so far we have only 55 confirmed cases out of 6.87 million population. And 21 of the 55 are cured and discharged.  No one has died in Wuxi or even in the whole of Jiangsu province. From the distribution chart I attached, you can clearly see that in Wuxi there is not single one confirmed case at all in the economic and development zone where we are located.

I am sure many of you have tracked the date in the public media. Yes, your governments may have warned you.  But that is because they will be held responsible for any infection if they do not.  The WHO does not support this shut-down approach.  ‘Be cautious’ means do not go to highly risk areas (while Jiangsu and Wuxi clearly is not), protect yourself by wearing masks etc.  It does not mean you cannot travel at all.  The Wuxi authorities have assessed the risks and consider it low at the moment.

Here I would also like to take this opportunity to clarify some issues:

The policy regarding the entry to Wuxi:

  1. Those who travelled to Hu Bei Province or those who have close contact with people from Hu Bei in the past two weeks are not allowed to enter Wuxi;
  2. Those who are from other cities in Jiangsu Province, as long as you have your ID cards ready and have a place to stay in Wuxi, can enter Wuxi without any problem; (we had staff just arrived today with peace)
  3. Those who are from other Provinces (other than Hu Bei, and have a place to stay in Wuxi can enter Wuxi without any problem (migrant residents need have residence permits)

The staff of the second and third category together with their spouse, parents and children will be allowed to enter at the same time.

Staff are recommended to contact HR for queries regarding your specific situation and if any document / assistance is needed from School.  If you have your flight booked and ready, HR will try its best to arrange your travel between Shanghai to Wuxi.

One big good news is that at the highway entrance to Wuxi, we have managed to arrange a special channel for —- staff.  We will submit your information before you arrive to ensure you can pass at a quick speed. Our local police station has promised this service for our School.

Quarantine requirement:

In the past two weeks if you:

  1. belong to the above first category, you are not allowed to enter.  If you insist on entering due to work, then you will be arranged into a central quarantine area arranged by government and will be allowed back in after 14 days’ clearance;
  2. travel from provinces other than Zhe Jiang, Guang Dong, Hu Nan, He Nan, An Hui, Jiang Xi and city Wen Zhou
    1. if travel with public transportation (train, airplane, coach, train) are suggested (not mandatory) to allow 14 days’ stay at you own flat before back to work
    2. if travelled with personal vehicle you are exempted from the quarantine, but it is still wise to allow some days to rest before back to work
  3. travel from provinces : Zhe Jiang, Guang Dong, Hu Nan, He Nan,, An Hui, Jiang Xi and city Wen Zhou, no matter what transportation you used, you need (mandatory) have 14 days’ quarantine.

Staying at your apartment

Some of the teachers questioned about whether your apartment will be sealed or not when they get back to their flat.  We have been receiving different messages at different stages.  From now on, you will have no problem getting into your apartments. Your landlord or the front tier workers from the maintenance office, may not receive the government instruction immediately and tell you something different.  Please be assured that school will take care of this issue. HR has already called the residential areas that our teachers mainly stayed. So far we only found one residential area Richgate is doing this which we think is too extreme and not right thing to do.  This morning we had the negotiation and succeed in getting this removed from the requirement for our teachers. With the requirement policy changed daily, I believe things are becoming better.  Again, any need for extra help, our HR department will assist.

Some of you questioned about whether or not a test could be a replacement for the 14 days quarantine requirement. Currently, this test is only available for those companies who get approval from the government due to the time limit for bringing the companies back to normal.  Schools are not on this priority list yet.  Once Wuxi Education Bureau can approve and put our school on the list, we then can apply for the test.  So, at the moment we cannot guarantee this test could be available, but we will try to apply.

Temperature check

When you first enter your apartment complex, you may be asked to check the temperature, show the health code and certificate of employment.  We will get the certificate ready for every teacher.

Staff children

If you are working couple and need your child/children to be looked after in the event that your child/children’s section is not yet open, each section will make sure to arrange proper group care for some of the instruction time.

Professional responsibility

Teachers need to be back to prepare, to facilitate online teaching as it continues, and to be ready to start.  Given the short notice that some teachers need more time to sort out flights, rent, etc. we would extend for another 2-3 days.  That is to say 23 February is the deadline we expect you could be back if there is no other special circumstance. For those of you who are unable to find a flight, please let HR know, we will find you the flight information for you to book.

Please be aware that government decisions are driven by public schools but apply equally to us. I hope this email answers some, if not all, of your concerns. Again, keep HR updated on a regular basis. Let’s all do my best. Thank you.

4 days notice to book flights, travel, and arrive. Thanks school. I feel so valued.

Feb 21

This afternoon, the Jiangsu provincial government issued a Guideline: “Instruction on Online Teaching”.  In the Guideline, it mentioned that “From March, this and that needs to be done when delivering online learning”.   There was no indication in the Guideline as to when schools would re-open.  Understandably, this has led to a certain degree of confusion as to how far into March online learning would continue.

Until we receive any official notification to the contrary, the School will continue preparations for a 2 March opening, as per the Wuxi government directive.  As soon as we hear more from the Wuxi authorities, staff will be immediately informed.

I cancelled my flight for tomorrow. If the government is giving direction for online learning in March, then surely school will not be open in March! They wouldn’t bother if schools were in fact opening on the first weekday of the month.

Feb 24

I booked a return flight for tomorrow because I have to leave soon if I’m going to be there for work on March 2nd. Surely a school is responsible enough to admit if it just isn’t going to happen, right? After all, it’s less than 5 days away. But there continues to be no information from school.

Flight booked from Los Angeles to Tokyo with a 24 hour layover before continuing to Shanghai Hongqiao. Wuxi airport no longer has international flights and Hongqiao is the next closest.

Feb 25

I am packed and ready to leave for the airport at 5am. At 1 am, my boss calls to let me know that there are rumblings of stronger quarantine requirements for people arriving from Japan and wants me to have all the information before leaving because things are likely to develop en-route.

At 5am, my parents and I stand at the top of the stair landing. None of us feel good about the trip. I cancel my flight accidentally while trying to find any cancellation fees. Super relieved, I go back to bed. Later, I learn that somewhere around midnight, Delta had waived all cancellation fees for flights to Tokyo.

In the morning, Mom asks me to take some time before booking another flight and I agree to wait a solid week before making any more flight bookings.

March 3

First and foremost, I do hope that you and your families are safe and well.  The spread of Covid-19 beyond China is of great concern.  Unfortunately, the impact of the virus on countries and communities around the world will only be fully known in the weeks ahead.  The good news in Wuxi is that it has been 15 days since the last confirmed case.  Of the 55 confirmed cases, 50 have now been released from hospital.

The steps which China has taken to contain the virus are extraordinary and there is now a genuine concern to protect China from those infected coming into the country.  Quarantine regulations are changing, seemingly on a daily basis, with more nations being added to the list of countries considered a risk by the Chinese authorities.  To colleagues who have booked a return flight or are in the process of doing so, I suggest that you check with Bella on the latest quarantine regulations.

We still do not know the date that schools will reopen in Wuxi.  However, we do know that schools will be given a week’s notice of the reopening date.  Given that today is Tuesday, we can expect to be continuing with online learning next Monday.

I have also received an update from HQ.  The expectation is that all staff will have returned to China by Monday 9 March, ready for the reopening of —-Schools.  This follows on from their earlier letter of 19 February asking staff to return as soon as possible.

Once again, I thank colleagues for the quality of the online learning provision.  I have nothing but praise for the dedication and commitment of staff in the delivery of top quality teaching and learning.  It has been a truly amazing performance.  For those who are in quarantine, I hope the experience has not been too arduous.  If you need any help from the School, do not hesitate to contact us.

March 6

Today we received municipal official documents, asking every school in Wuxi to arrange teachers to be back to Wuxi for the preparation of the opening. Although there is still no specific date mentioned, we do believe this is a signal of some kind. In this document, we are asked to arrange teachers and staff to be back to city and back to school for preparation. This exactly echoes with —- email sent a few days ago about the expectation of everyone back to China for work. Hence, I would like to update you on the following information.

  1. If you followed with our first email and back to Wuxi before Feb 23, that means you finished 14 days quarantine and could be back to campus on March 9.  If you are planning to be back on campus for any preparation work, please fill in the attached form. I attached both Chinese and English version, please fill in whichever you feel comfortable with. Once you finished, email HR together with other documents (i.e. green health code, temperature record). Then you would be able to get access to campus. When you arrive, you will be asked to measure your temperature. Please at least let us know one day in advance so that we can clear proper procedures before your arrival and inform guards. And please also let HR know if you need lunch at school. We only provide set lunch box during this epidemic period.
  2. If you arrived Wuxi after Feb 23, that means you are still in your quarantine. Please be aware that you are not allowed to be on campus until you finished your 14 days quarantine as instructed by local authorities. Once you fulfilled in the requirement, you then can come to campus by following the same procedure as stated above.
  3. If you plan to arrive Wuxi in the following days , please keep close contact with HR to double check the quarantine requirements before you book you tickets as the rules are changing depends on the situation at other countries and each community may also differ the way. Up till now, please avoid Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran during your flight. Transfer at other countries if possible as you will be asked for a strict home quarantine if you stopped at the four countries.
  4. If you cannot arrive Wuxi after March 9, please keep John and I updated.

All teaching staff (including secretaries, lab tech, librarian): Your Head of School will inform you regarding when and how they would like you to be back for preparation.

All admin staff: Those who fulfilled the quarantine requirement, please come back to campus for preparation work from Monday March 9

March 7

This email was only sent to the 26 of 80 teachers who have not yet returned.

It comes to my attention that you are not in Wuxi Yet. Some you have already booked your flight and will be in Wuxi shortly, while others are in the booking process. Let me update you on the new quarantine policy of Wuxi in case you need have this in mind what will be expected.

First of all, the first time John and I emailed to ask every staff to be back to Wuxi for preparation is the time when the COVID19 is not exposed yet internationally. At that time we focus on the situation and condition in China and Wuxi specifically. And from the figure that we shared, we believe it is safe for all staff be back. Secondly, at that time government’s instruction is no opening in Feb, which indicate an opening on March 2 and we also verbally communicated by education bureau to ask teachers back for preparation. Internal government paper even mentioned certain grades to start first.  As a school, we then hold the responsibility of educating our children. We cannot open the school without teachers. Therefore we sent the letter, asking everyone be back by Feb23, and we are thinking if 14 days quarantine is added at least all teachers could be ready on March 9 (as March 2 is only for certain grades, there would not be much impact).

It is recently from the news that we see the outbreak of COVID19 developed rapidly in other countries which is out of our expectation. And that is why our government raised the bar of quarantine requirement for the ones coming back from overseas. At the moment four countries are on our top risky list and I do not know whether this list will develop or not. All of this is not what we can predict. At this point, I personally think China is now safer than other countries. Yesterday we received government official document urging every school to call teachers back to Wuxi for preparation as my communication to everyone.

I realized there might be some confusion I made in the previous email of the quarantine requirement. So I would like to clarify and made it clear for you since you are the ones not in Wuxi yet. As from March 6 (literally last night),  there are some alternatives to the original requirement.

Three types of quarantine:

  1. If you come from a country NOT on the top risky list, then you will be asked to have 14 days self-quarantine(quite strict) at your own flat. Some community is even more stricter such as they will put a sticker on your door (not a seal, but a sticker to remind the duration of your quarantine period), ask you stay indoors, you cannot step out and shopping stuff will be delivered to your door. Bella will check with each community to let you know specifically. But be prepared for a strict quarantine. Your Wuxi health code will remain red during your quarantine period, which means you can not enter public area. Once you finish your 14 days, red will turn to green.
  2. If you come from a country ON the list (as of today, Japan, Korea, Italy, Iran), you then will be asked to have 14 days central quarantine at a designated hotel with food and room provided. Up till now, there is no adjustment to this country list. You may get exception, for example we succeed in arguing for —- who flew from Korea to quarantine at her own flat. But I cannot guarantee for the next case. Again your Wuxi health code will remain red during your quarantine period, and you will be restricted in your hotel room. Once you finish your 14 days, red will turn to green.
  3. If you are categorized as close contact with someone confirmed, you then will be requested to have a medical quarantine at a designated hospital. The quarantine date would be 14 days after you last contact this person. Our colleague —- and —- unfortunately follows into this category as someone from their flight is confirmed. So to be cautious, our government would like them to be closely looked after. Since they got off their plane 4 days ago, they need do another 10 days before back home. They will be accompanied by a nurse all day and doctor visits. Initially they are asked to go to hospital as the normal procedure, but we finally tried to negotiate and get them into a hotel. All of them had a test yesterday, all are negative.

So at the moment please avoid the four countries so that you do not became category 2. With time goes on, I had a feeling that the policy might be tighter. As a school we will try our best to apply and fight for some flexibility such as —- and —–‘s case. Another efforts we are going to try is apply acid tube test for you to shorten the quarantine period by 7 days. But this need approval from government and need certain procedures. School will try but cannot guarantee.

If there is any new updates on the quarantine requirement, we will let you know as soon as possible. In terms of individual circumstance of traveling, keep —- and I posted. We will talk to you individually.

The tone of this email leads me to believe that school is preparing to not pay people who do not return on time.

There is precisely one flight route left that meets the qualifications for quarantine at home. I book an EVA air flight for March 8/9th at midnight from Los Angeles to Taipei and then on to Shanghai Pudong. From there, a driver will take me the final 3 hours home.

March 10

Traveling is exhausting, but I arrived safely in Wuxi!

The flight to Taipei was uneventful and not much different from normal trans-pacific flights. The flight was about 60% full and I had an empty seat next to me. I slept pretty good and the flight didn’t feel 14.5 hours long.

We arrived in Taipei at 5am for a 4 hour layover. Everyone was wearing a mask, but otherwise, life seemed to be moving along as normal.

Waiting at the gate for the flight to Shanghai, I am amazed by the quantity of people waiting. This airplane is actually a bigger one than the one from LA and is 98% full. I take my seat next to a coughing preschooler. As the doors close, the family of 3 across the aisle are upgraded. One lady in a hazmat suit jumps into the window seat and I politely ask the flight attendant if I can take the aisle. Three cheers for another empty seat!

It’s important to note that I’ve been traveling for 24 hours by the time we land. As we arrive at the gate, the pilot informs us that all flights are met by health officials and that it would be 20-60 minutes until they arrived at our gate.

An hour and a half later, the health officials board the flight in hazmat suits and speak to two individuals. One is escorted from the plane.

45 minutes later, the health officials return. They state that they are going to call names of those who are approved to enter the airport- I think these were people who already had registered travel and secured a Shanghai QR health code. About an hour later, they called all Americans. Eek. What’s that about?!?

It feels like most of the plane is suddenly American and I make my way to first class, but there are so many people crammed in the aisles. After some time, they start calling other names and a flight attendant tells a bunch of us to go back and sit down. I settle into Premium Economy near most of the English speakers.

After a period of time, my seat number was called. I moved to the front. A health official looked at my health declaration form and took my temperature 4 times. I’m allowed to enter the airport!

About 15 passengers gather on the jetway. We’re escorted to a staging area of tables and officials in hazmat suits. Thankfully there is no line! The official asked me a hundred questions about where I had been in the last 14 days and the travel history of everyone I had been with in the last 14 days. He also helps me register for the Shanghai health QR code. It comes up Green B. I still don’t know what that meant (A hunch is that Green meant I was low-risk and that B is for my visa classification, but I’m not sure), but it was good enough to keep moving forward!

Next was the line for immigration. It moved so slowly and then I found out why. Chinese immigration officials have never in nine years asked me a question. Once you have landed a visa, they’re content. This time, they asked all the same questions again, but with a focus on my travel history and where I had travelled and when. The official also checked every stamp in my passport to verify my travel history. Satisfied, I got my stamp.

Baggage was already spinning. Customs didn’t ask anyone to put their luggage through. I was so thankful! That has only happened once or twice in nine years! At the point that I connected with my driver, it had been 4.5 hours since I landed.

After a 3 hour drive to Wuxi, the driver took me to the local health office. I filled out another health declaration and was given a WeChat contact to report to if I had any symptoms. They explained the home quarantine procedures- stay home for 14 days and do not go out for any reason.

The driver dropped me off at my compound. I’m so thankful to see the same guards as always! We play charades until I understand that they need to see all the health paperwork gathered thus far.


March 11

I slept so good in my own bed!

The local, English-speaking health official arrived at my door in the morning. He brought a thermometer and paper to record my temperature twice a day. He also left the contact info for my community management office for assistance getting grocery deliveries brought to my door.

*Later, I learned that I became the last teacher to arrive who was not sent directly to central quarantine. I am SO THANKFUL for that!

March 12

In my last email, I wrote: The spread of Covid-19 beyond China is of great concern.  Unfortunately, the impact of the virus on countries and communities around the world will only be fully known in the weeks ahead.  Events have certainly escalated in the 9 days since that email.  Let us hope that other countries are able to deal with the outbreak of Covid-19.

Yesterday, a team from the Education Bureau visited the school to review our plans for the re-opening.  They also inspected our medical facilities and checked the stocks of disinfectant, thermometers, face masks, hand sanitisers and so forth.  All was in order and to the Inspection Team’s satisfaction.

Clearly, things are ramping up.  However, we still do not know the date that schools will reopen in Wuxi.  Given that today is Thursday, we can expect to be continuing with online learning next Monday.  As soon as I receive any news regarding the official opening date, I shall write to you.

In the meantime, if you need any help from the School, do not hesitate to contact us.

March 13

My final year of courses for my masters was officially cancelled. Commencement is also cancelled. 😞

March 18

Since my last email, the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic has well and truly moved to Europe.  Indeed, the exponential growth in the number of cases in Italy over the past week is particularly worrying.

Last Monday, we received a visit from Secretary Huang accompanied by his senior advisors and representatives from the media (TV, radio and social).  Secretary Huang visited five schools in Wuxi to see first-hand preparations for the re-opening of the schools.  He was impressed by what he saw at —- and congratulated the team on the ground (nurses, security, cleaners, operations).

Unfortunately, we are still waiting for news on when schools will reopen in Wuxi.  Given that today is Wednesday, online learning will continue next week.  As soon as we receive news, I shall write to you.

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