‘After almost 8 months, I’m finally on my way home’

I’m writing this column while I’m travelling to Thailand. Home. The word alone already has a sweet ring to it. After almost 8 months, I’m finally on my way home. What’s normally a trip of around 4 hours, takes more than 2 weeks now. Including quarantine.

The entire process of leaving China is already complex, to put it mildly. It involves lots of documents and permits. And of course, there’s no bureaucracy without a loophole or two.

For example, one of the requirements is a reservation in an approved quarantine hotel. You can only get this when you’ve got an entry permit. But to get that entry permit, you need to have a hotel reservation. Luckily, these things usually sort themselves out in the end.

The impact of Covid-19 becomes clearly visible upon arrival at Bangkok International airport. There are hardly any flights, most airplanes are grounded. The halls are empty, it’s like a ghost airport. Surreal.

At the end of the hall, we see barrier tape and plastic chairs. Everyone’s told to sit down and follow the protocol. Temperature check, questionnaire and on to the next form. Most importantly: will your insurance company cover the costs in case you are, or become, infected?

After all this, we can make our way through to customs and passport control. This area is usually filled with long queues, but today there is no one.

A path marked with more barrier tape leads out towards the arrival area, where drivers are waiting to collect us. Some are there to take plastic surgery patients to the hospital, but the vast majority is taking passengers to the quarantine hotels. There’s no way to escape. The hotel has cordoned off a separate parking area. And there’s a separate entrance for everyone going into quarantine on the top floor.

At the hotel, we’re welcomed with one cotton swab down our throats and another one up our noses. During the intake interview we’re told that smoking and alcohol are prohibited and asked whether we’re depressed. There are no balconies, and all the windows are locked, just in case someone’s depressed after all. Meals are left outside the door three times per day.

The room is equipped with a coffee machine and offers a view across the empty streets of Bangkok. After 7 days, we’re subjected to the double cotton swab trick again, and after another 7 days, we’re allowed to leave. We can go out for some fresh air twice a day under the watchful eye of a quarantine supervisor, man or woman who knows, dressed in multiple layers of plastic. And when all of this is over: Home with a capital H. Finally…

Cok Harteveld,

General manager Van den Berg Roses,  China

Click here to read more blogs from Cok.

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