South China Morning Post economy desk reporter Ji Siqi recently flew home to mainland China from Hong Kong having not seen her family in her hometown of Shenyang in the northeastern province of Liaoning for over a year due to coronavirus restrictions. In a three-part diary, she will recount her 28-day mandatory hotel quarantine experience, which falls under the world’s longest virus prevention measures for overseas travellers – totalling 56 days. You can read part two here and part three here. Wearing the same clothes I was wearing when I set off from Hong Kong exactly a month ago, I dragged my luggage behind me and stepped out of the tiny hotel room that I had not left in the past seven days. After 28 days in quarantine in three different hotel rooms and 10 negative nasal swab tests, I could finally go home, although I was still not completely just yet free. My release day was March 20, the day of the spring equinox. My hometown of Shenyang had just started to be touched by a little taste of spring after two snowfalls in the past week. The Hun River – the major waterway that bypasses the city to the south – was starting to melt, attracting wild geese. The price, which I was willing to pay, was a 28 or 56 day ordeal, depending on how you define the word ‘ordeal’ A month ago, I had chosen to return home from Hong Kong to see my family that I had not seen for more than a year. But the price, which I was willing to pay, was a 28 or 56 day ordeal, depending on how you define the word “ordeal.” Shenyang has the world’s most stringent coronavirus quarantine measures for overseas travellers as the “28+28” rules require 28 days of mandatory hotel quarantine and then an additional 28 days of health monitoring. Unlike the solitary nature of the hotel quarantine, you can live with family under the rules of the second block of 28 days, but you can’t go to public spaces, like restaurants, or take public transport. The requirement is hardly scientific, as most other cities across China usually require 21 days in total, which is already very long compared with most other countries that are opting to “live with the virus” and have slashed all restrictions for inbound travellers. I was joking with a friend in Hong Kong, who was infected in late February but who fully recovered within a week, that in the 56 days you can recover eight times. But feeling like a powerless individual who really wanted to see my family, I didn’t have any choice but to obey. Previously, I never thought a month would be so long that so many changes could be stuffed into it, but the world was so different from that of 28 days earlier. Russia had invaded Ukraine, virus cases in Hong Kong had soared and the Omicron variant had forced multiple big cities in China into lockdown. For me, the main thing was that the 28 days had paid off and I safely arrived home without any extra quarantine required. There was also an extra bonus as I went all the way north, and I didn’t miss the start of spring. Day 1-14: Hong Kong to first Shanghai hotel I left Hong Kong on a rainy, gloomy Sunday morning on February 20. At that time, the whole city was shadowed by a strong sense of uncertainty amid a rapid surge of coronavirus cases. Once I had decided to go home, I started to be extra careful. I stopped eating out, or going out unless I had to. I was not afraid of getting infected - I’m young and have had my booster shot - but I was rather scared of the potential for endless quarantine if I tested positive when arriving in mainland China I was not afraid of getting infected - I’m young and have had my booster shot - but I was rather scared of the potential for endless quarantine if I tested positive when arriving in mainland China. Based on posts shared on social media, the whole process could add weeks or even months to my journey. The flight I took was not full, but still had around 150 passengers, many were wearing full protective gear. After two and a half hours, I landed in the sunshine of Shanghai at noon. For me, my N95 mask was the major source of security, but it was impossible to keep the mask on all the time. I refrained from drinking water or eating most of the time, but I needed to take it off when passing customs and when taking a swab test that went so deep into my nose that I couldn’t help tearing up. Like many others, I chose Shanghai as my first destination due to the trust in the richest mainland city. I was worried about the possibility of being infected during the hotel quarantine. That was how the current fifth wave had started in Hong Kong, and I thought Shanghai – which handled over a third of the inbound international flights into China in 2021 – was the city with the most experience and could minimise the risks in the most scientific, professional and humanised way. Looking back, I wouldn’t say my judgment was wrong, but the city was grappling with its most severe outbreak since early March, and the origin was also a quarantine hotel. According to the Shanghai government, the virus came from an imported case who lived in a hotel and polluted the environment, and then it spread to hotel workers, who then took it into the local community. The accommodation in question, the Huating Hotel, is one of Shanghai’s oldest five-star hotels and it was supposed to be closed temporarily since mid-February for renovation, but was designated as a quarantine centre to meet the needs of increasing travellers who flocked to Shanghai as the number of infections in Hong Kong rose. If I had flown one day later, I may have been allocated to that hotel as well A letter from the hotel showed that it had finished the required preparation work 24 hours after receiving the order on February 20, which was the day I arrived in Shanghai, and it took in more than 500 passengers within two days. That means, if I had flown one day later, I may have been allocated to that hotel as well. Thankfully, after finishing all the procedures at the airport, at around 3.30pm I got on a bus with around a dozen people and headed for a different hotel where I would spend the first 14 days of my quarantine locked inside. The hotel was newly built and not far from Shanghai Disneyland. It cost 450 yuan (US$71) per day, including meals. I was lucky that I got a room on the 18th floor with a big window facing the south, from which I could enjoy both the sunshine and the view. On the second day, however, I saw through the peephole in my door that the person staying in the room across from the hallway had moved out. He had arrived on the same flight as me, and I remember his Mandarin had a strong Cantonese accent. In the following days, at least two groups of staff in protective gear came to his room and disinfected everything. The contents cleared out of the room were sealed in yellow trash bags, each which had a white paper attached that had printed on it two big Chinese black characters: Xin Guan , the abbreviation for Covid-19 in Chinese. I didn’t see him again. During my 14-day hotel quarantine, every day I looked anxiously over the notices from the Shanghai government about the daily number of cases. Each day there were dozens of imported cases, most of them from Hong Kong. I kept worrying that I may become one of the statistics, with that anxiety only starting to fade in the second week of my stay. On the 14th day, I successfully stepped out of the room after six negative test results. I was told that our flight had contributed over 20 positive results.