Tim Fan was so close getting home. He was so close to getting home for the first time since the pandemic.
Midway through the 12-hour flight between Seattle and Shanghai in December, Delta Air Lines made an abrupt U-turn back towards the United States. Chinese officials refuted the airline's claim that it had to use burdensome disinfection procedures at Shanghai's airport.
Fan remains in Seattle almost two months later. His return journey to China is hampered by lack of flights, high ticket prices, and his Covid-19 infection. Chinese regulations prevent Fan from entering the country until he has fully recovered.
He is now waiting to pay $2,400 per month for an Airbnb. This is four times the rent he paid while he was at school. He spent the Lunar New Year in China this month, which is China's most important holiday. He was separated from his family in Shenzhen.
Fan, 22, said that her heart was "numb" and had no feeling. "I have reached my lowest point in terms of luck."
Fan, a student from Fan, still has great difficulties returning home to China two years after the pandemic. While the country's very strict "zero Covid" strategy closes its borders to nearly all foreigners it does not create any obstacles for Chinese citizens.
The smallest number of flights is the most important. According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, only 200 international flights per week are available to China, which is 2.2 percent less than pre-pandemic levels.
This is partly due to China's policy of suspending domestic and foreign airlines from certain routes up to four weeks if there are too many people who test positive for the virus on arrival. China has recently suspended 44 U.S.-bound inbound flights, prompting U.S. officials and Chinese airlines to also suspend similar number of Chinabound flights.
Aya Li, a Beijing travel agent, stated that ticket prices have also risen since the outbreak of the pandemic. She said that a one-way economy-class ticket between Los Angeles and Shanghai costs $1,600 to $3,000, as opposed to $630 for a round trip economy-class ticket just two years ago.
Li stated that it was becoming more difficult for Chinese to return home today.
For those who have taken Covid-19, it is even more difficult. All travelers to China must first apply for a green "health" code at a Chinese consulate. They will need to submit multiple negative test results before they can board the plane. For at least 14 days, travelers who have been infected previously cannot apply for the health codes. They must also prove that they are healthy by taking an X-ray, CT scan or other imaging.
WeChat is a messaging app that is widely used in China and abroad by Chinese. A group of advice for Covid-19 patients who are returning from the U.S. has nearly 400 members.
Kelly Tang, a Boston University freshman, expressed concern that her May trip from Seattle to Beijing could be canceled or canceled because of a positive test result. She said that she will start "panicking" the month before and cross her fingers.
Tang visited a friend in Seattle during winter break. She then returned to Boston to complete the project in her own hotel room.
Tang, a Beijing native, said that she felt lonely because Christmas was not celebrated back home.
Ansley Leung, a Boston college junior, stated that it was impossible to travel home to China during winter break like Tang.
One reason is the price: A round-trip ticket from Boston, Leung's hometown to Shanghai can cost more than $10,000. Another reason is China's quarantine requirements international arrivals. These are some of the most stringent in the world.
After landing in Shanghai, Leung would have had to quarantine at a government-designated hotel for 14 days, followed by another seven days at home. This would have given Leung only about a week to visit family and friends before she returned to school.
Mo, a doctoral student in Arizona, has not been to Zhengzhou since summer 2019. This is due to the quarantine requirements. He is a summer research associate and gets two weeks off per annum, which is less than what he would need to be in quarantine when he returns to China.
He said that he misses his family and many things, including friends and food. It's been very frustrating.
China is currently fighting an epidemic that has locked entire cities in lockdown. However, it has reported far fewer cases (125,000) or deaths (4,636) than other countries. Mo stated that he believed the zero-Covid strategy was more restrictive than it was effective.
"I feel like this [China's] chance for them to demonstrate their control over their people. Mo said that they have been doing many things instead of controlling the Covid. He declined to identify himself by his full name and criticized Chinese policies. They restrict your ability to go out and they restrict your ability to obtain a passport or visa for travel abroad. It's something I disagree with.
According to Chinese government advisors, zero-Covid remains the best strategy for the country and is unlikely to change.
Other than the practical difficulties, Chinese students who return from abroad face a second challenge: backlash from their fellow citizens. Chinese state media has defended the zero-Covid strategy by highlighting the high death and case numbers in the U.S., and other countries. This has led some Chinese to see foreigners and returning students as a threat for public health.
Leung and Tang stated that Chinese social media is full of comments urging students to "never return" or accusing them "of bringing back germs."
Tang stated, "We are like a burden to them." "I get that. They don't need any pressure from us. Think about those who haven’t seen their parents in years.
Fan is currently spending his time in Seattle working to improve his immune system. Fan paid $4,800 for a second flight to Shanghai after he received a negative result from his January test. He also knows that this is not a guarantee.
Fan stated that worrying does not bring about anything and that he has no choice but to fly. Let's hope for the best.