How to survive centralised quarantine

Jul 30, 2020 | Asia, China, Global travel

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(Last updated on: 09/12/2020)

Centralised quarantine is a daunting prospect that many of us had never even heard of prior to COVID-19. However, with the globalised world that we live in comes an inevitable need for travel around the world. But, while the virus continues to spread across the globe, we are not yet in a position to be able to travel freely as we used to. One way of mitigating the spread of the virus is to adopt practices of centralised quarantine.

Centralised quarantine is being used around the world, but is most commonly experienced when travelling to Asia, Australia and New Zealand. My personal experience is based on travelling to China, but many of the things that I say below can be applied to centralised quarantine situations in any part of the world.

Are you likely to be undertaking centralised quarantine any time soon? Or perhaps you are interested to find out what this experience entails? If so, read on…

what to pack for centralised quarantine infographic

Centralised quarantine in China

After a long few months of the borders being strictly closed, China is now allowing some foreigners into the country. But, entering the country from overseas means that you must undertake strict quarantine measures upon arrival.

These are extraordinary times around the world and we, the human population, are facing challenges that we never thought we would need to just a few short (or perhaps not so short!) months ago. One such challenge is quarantine.

In this article I will discuss my own personal experience of centralised quarantine in China and I will give you my tips and advice on how to make your quarantine stay as pleasant as possible.

If you are planning to quarantine in a country other than China, much of the advice I guess in this article will also be applicable to your travel destination.

What is centralised quarantine?

First and foremost, I think it is very important to define exactly what I mean by the term centralised quarantine.

When I first arrived back to China people said to be ‘good luck with your isolation’ and when I was in the UK during lockdown (a period of time when people were asked to stay home and go out only to shop for essential items and for daily exercise) people would say things such as ‘I can’t wait for this quarantine to be over’.

I would like to point out that these people do not understand the terms here, and actually I find it quite frustrating because quarantine, isolation and lockdown are really quite different things!

Quarantine is when you are confined to a particular space and are under no circumstances allowed to leave. You may have guards or cameras monitoring the outside of your door or there may be tape placed on your door. You cannot go outside except in absolute emergencies.

Quarantine has never been implemented in the UK except for in confirmed cases or (rarely) in specific cases where the person’s risk of having the virus is deemed high.

Quarantine was used in much of Asia during the initial outbreak and is subsequently used for incoming international travellers.

Australia and New Zealand also adopt strict quarantine procedures for people travelling from overseas.

Isolation, most commonly referred to as self-isolation, is when a person is responsible for staying away from other people. This typically means staying home, but does usually include shopping for essential items.

Self-isolation is difficult to enforce and Governments (in my case the UK Government) have been criticised for implementing rules deemed unenforceable.

Lockdown is a period of time when people are requested to stay home, with the exception of shopping for essential items and exercise. During this time many shops, restaurants and other businesses are closed. People are told/encouraged to work from home where possible.

When you arrive in China, similarly to other countries in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, you will be placed in centralised quarantine. This is NOT the same experience as what you may have had in other countries who have implemented self-isolation or lockdowns.

Why are countries using centralised quarantine?

Much of the scientific evidence has been questionable or changing throughout the whole COVID situation. We shouldn’t wear masks, we should wear masks…. it can’t be spread by droplets, it can be spread by droplets…. it is mutating, it isn’t mutating…. etc. The fact of the matter is that this is a new virus and we just don’t know that much about it.

BUT what we DO know, is that centralised quarantine DOES work.

I am writing this article whilst sat on the bed in my quarantine hotel. My husband is playing with kids in the bath. I expect there will be more than one bath today, as its only 10am and the kids are already bored.

centralised quarantine
Our mini ‘waterpark’ in our quarantine hotel in Shanghai

Being in centralised quarantine is tough, there’s no denying it.

But the truth is that it is an effective way of preventing imported cases of the virus. As much as I hate being trapped in this room for 14 days with my full-of-energy kids, I know that the Chinese Government has good reason for imposing such measures.

Centralised quarantine enables Governments to effectively monitor the health of people who have just arrived into the country. With regular testing and temperature checks, medical staff are in good stead to quickly act should anyone show signs that they have contracted the virus.

It’s crap right now, but at least I know that when we are out of here our chances of getting sick from COVID are pretty slim BECAUSE of these precautions….

How long will I be in centralised quarantine?

The incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days. This means that you will likely need to remain in centralised quarantine for a full 14 days.

Some destinations, including China, allow for home quarantine for all or part of your stay. These rules change all of the time though, so be sure to check what the current procedures are before travel.

For us, we were denied home quarantine because there were no international flights into the province where we live (Zhejiang). Families who live in Shanghai have been able to take their children home to quarantine, but for us who live across the border, we have to stay put for the full 14 days. But this is today’s rule. Tomorrow may well bring something new…

You can read all about what it’s like to live in Hangzhou, China here.

Some people believe that having a negative COVID-19 test prior to travel mitigates the need for centralised quarantine. This is not true.

Whilst there are some ‘fast track agreements’ that have been agreed in principle, I haven’t personally seen this come to fruition.

Fast track agreements are intended to allow people to travel for business reasons that are deemed economically essential to the country and where a 14 day quarantine would not be practical.

In theory, these agreements sound great, but practically, there is no way to guarantee that the business tourist has not contracted the virus at some point during their travels. And so, I guess this is the reason that I have not seen this happen on any significant scale (or any scale at all).

So even if you have a negative COVID test before you and after you travel, because the incubation period has a potential of 14 days, there is still no guarantee that you are virus free.

What will the facilities be like?

Most countries that have adopted centralised quarantine for arriving international passengers use hotels for their quarantine facilities.

These hotels seem to vary in standard. Some countries will give you a choice of hotel and others will not.

In China we were allocated a hotel based on where our usual place of residence was. Although this hotel is actually nowhere near where we usually live.

Most countries will require you to pay for the cost of your hotel, food and medical tests for the duration of your quarantine period. I have read of prices ranging from £10-£100 a night depending on where you are and what standard of hotel you will stay in.

Each hotel is different and some will have more facilities and mod cons than others.

Some people will literally have beds and a shower and perhaps a desk, but not much else.

In our hotel we have three single beds, a sofa, a table with a baby chair and a swivel chair, a fridge, a kettle and a bathtub (note- we had to request the extra bed and baby chair, but the staff were very accommodating).

centralised quarantine
The room would have been VERY dirty if I didn’t have a baby chair to help prevent spillages!

When you pack for centralised quarantine (see suggested packing list below) it would be a good idea to assume that you don’t have a lot to avoid disappointment, unless you can confirm otherwise.

Will I be tested for COVID?

You will probably have lots of tests during your centralised quarantine.

The frequency and type of tests seems to vary a lot. There are three types of tests- throat, nose and blood. You may have all three or you may have just one type.

You will likely to be tested on arrival, at some point during your stay and a couple of days before you leave.

You will also have regular temperature checks throughout the duration of your stay. For us, this was twice a day, using an infrared thermometer on our foreheads.

I will admit, that the excessive temperature scanning does make me a little nervous. This type of thermometer is known to be unreliable and if any of us have a recording of 37.3 or above we would all be taken straight to the fever clinic at the hospital. With a teething baby and a toddler who just had her MMR vaccine a few days before we flew (fever is a known side effect and I did not know we would be flying so soon after when she had it!), this makes me quite apprehensive.

COVID tests are generally very uncomfortable and many people say that they are painful, although I have been told that this largely depends on the person who is doing the test.

The throat swap makes you gag and Isla complained of tummy ache afterwards (I expect this was because she was gagging so much that it made her feel sick).

The nose test is not nice at all and my nose hurt for hours afterwards. It made me cry.

Will I quarantine with my family and friends?

You will probably not be allowed to quarantine with your friends and family.

This does, of course, differ depending on where you are. Some countries have blanket policies and other have different policies for different provinces or districts. In some places it depends on the staff who are working on that particular day in your quarantine hotel.

In China, most people will be allocated a room on their own. Children aged 14 and over are also usually placed alone. Families will usually be split and some children will go with the dad and some with the mum. Married and unmarried couples are separated.

centralised quarantine
We managed to negotiate a third single bed for our family of four.

When we arrived in China we were lucky that they allowed my husband to quarantine with us. This seems to be fairly common when young children are involved, although it is by no means guaranteed.

However, I am not aware that there are any family-sized rooms used in the quarantine facilities in China. Most families are given two single beds to share. We managed to negotiate an additional camp bed on arrival. I then rearranged the room and pushed all three beds together against the wall to prevent the kids from falling out of bed. We were not offered a baby cot.

Are there exceptions for children, elderly or disabled?

Many countries will allow exceptions for children, elderly or disabled people.

In Shanghai, families with young children are allowed to undergo quarantine in their own homes, under the supervision of the community management. However, if you live outside of the province, like we do, this is currently not allowed. But, as I said before, the rules change daily in this COVID world that we now live in!

If you are stuck in centralised quarantine there may be special allowances for children, elderly or disabled. For example, they may allow deliveries of food or medication.

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Food in centralised quarantine

For us, the biggest issue with centralised quarantine has been food.

centralised quarantine
My children have been less than impressed with the food offered at the quarantine hotel…

The level and type of food provided in centralised quarantine varies depending on where you are located. In China, the food is provided (for a fee) by the Government. This is typical Chinese food.

Whilst the food in our hotel is ok, most Chinese food (which is NOTHING like the Chinese take aways that we get at home- I am dreaming of egg fried rice and sweet and sour chicken balls right now!!) is not to Western palettes. It is especially not child-friendly.

We knew that our children would not eat the majority of the food and there were no child-sized meals, so we opted to order food for only one person during our stay (for a fee of 700rmb for two weeks).

For breakfast this morning we were given sweet bread, a boiled egg and seaweed flavoured crackers. Lunch was plain boiled rice with cabbage, pork on the bone and some kind of spam-type meat (I am always nervous about what I am eating in China because they eat some types of meat, such as cat, that I would prefer not to eat!). Dinner will be much the same as lunch. And tomorrow and the day after and the day after that will be the same again.

centralised quarantine
I packed some pots of porridge in my luggage that can be made using a kettle.

Fortunately I was aware of the food situation prior to my arrival and I packed LOTS of pot noodles, cous cous and cereal bars. In fact, I bought an extra suitcase especially to carry all of the supplies that I knew we would need! Yep- I struggled through two airports alone with two kids, a pram and SEVEN bags! It was tough…. anyway, I digress…

I recommend that you prepare ahead of time for the possibility that you and your family may not want to eat the food that is provided. I packed pot noodles but found that these took up a lot of space in my case. If you can find an equivalent in a packet (I found Mug Shot in the UK) then this is more practical.

centralised quarantine
I actually prefer the taste of these mug shot pasta to pot noodles.

I also recommend taking vitamins during your stay in centralised quarantine. The kids and I usually take vitamins on a daily basis anyway, but if you don’t usually take vitamins it might be a good idea to pack some- because you may not be getting all of the nutrients that your body needs. I swear by Berocca and I give the kids Wellbaby.

Some centralised quarantine hotels will allow food delivery, others won’t. We are allowed to order food if it is whole (i.e. not chopped). This is great because it means that we can order milk for the baby bottles and fruit. I am dying for a large pizza…. but I guess that will just have to wait a few more days!

centralised quarantine
We made a pita, butter, raison sandwich- needs must!

Entertainment in centralised quarantine

The second biggest hurdle for me in centralised quarantine is entertainment.

Most people who have completed centralised quarantine complain of boredom. However I can’t tell you how much I long for afternoons of writing blogs and evenings of Netflix! Or maybe even the opportunity to read a book!

Undertaking centralised quarantine with kids is a COMPLETELY different story. It is important that you find ways to entertain the kids during your two weeks of staying in one room. I’m not going to lie, it is incredibly tough.

I actually couldn’t have survived without my kid’s iPads. Do you usually limit screen time? Turn screens off at meals? All limits are off when in centralised quarantine! These two weeks are about SURVIVAL!

centralised quarantine
My kids have probably spent 6-8 hours a day watching screens!

Before we left the UK I made sure that the iPads were full to the brim with games and videos. We have Disney+, Netflix and CBBC iPlayer. We downloaded as many films to the iPads as possible so that these could be watched offline. Some quarantine hotels only allow for one device to be connected to wifi- so be prepared!

Aside from the iPads I packed some arts and crafts bits and pieces that have kept them entertained for an hour or so each day. We have made animals from Play-Doh, played with sticker books and cut up paper. We have obviously done a lot of drawing too.

centralised quarantine
Play-Doh is a great way to keep the kids entertained for half an hour!

I packed some soft-back books that we could read during quarantine. The girls absolutely love What the Ladybird Said and What’s Next Door. These books are fun and lightweight to carry, making them perfect for centralised quarantine.

Since arriving into quarantine I have connected with a few other people who are going through the same experience and who have been sharing their coping mechanisms too. One family painted their shower, which I thought was a great idea!

Another family recommended packing masking tape. Tape can be used to create obstacle courses, to do arts and crafts and to map out race tracks on the floor. This is so simple yet so versatile- I wish I had thought of this! I’ve since found out that you can buy bathroom painting pens– these are awesome!

Another mum suggested to me that we investigate dinosaur yoga on YouTube. My kids lost interest pretty quickly but I think this could really work for slightly older children.

Actually, online exercise videos or tutorials can be a great way to keep yourself busy. If I was here without the children I would also have taken an online photography course, I would be revising for my Chinese driving test that I hope to take after we are released and I would be getting lots of work done.

Our Wifi is extremely intermittent. It seems to work most of the time on our phones and on the iPads, but it rarely works on the laptop. I think this is because the laptop requires more bandwidth. This is a problem that I have encountered frequently on my travels in hotels, so don’t be surprised if this happens to you too.

You may also wish to pack some kind of TV or game consoles. Older kids may want to wire up their game console to the hotel TV. You can also buy an Amazon Firestick to play TV.

If you are travelling to China you will need to set up your VPN before you leave. Without our VPN we cannot use Disney+, CCBC iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix or Amazon. None of our social media accounts (except WeChat and Linkedin) work either. Many VPNs claim to work in China, but in reality they don’t. This is NOT a risk that you want to take when in centralised quarantine! We use Express VPN and it usually works pretty well. You can download Express VPN here.

Some people choose to have exercise items delivered to their centralised quarantine facility. This includes trampolines, tread mills, yoga mats etc. This can be a great idea to help pass the time and to stay as active as you can whilst being locked in one room for 14 days. If you want something that can fit into your luggage you can try packing a skipping rope a dyna-band.

What to pack for centralised quarantine

what to pack for centralised quarantine infographic

Perhaps the biggest question of all is what to pack for centralised quarantine… and it is a very important question indeed. You will want to make these 14 days as bearable as possible, so it is important that you pack accordingly.

Personally, I recommend shipping items if necessary and making room for things that will you need in quarantine in your luggage instead.

Here is my centralised quarantine packing list-

Food

Be prepared with lots of dry food that can be easily transported. Here are some items that you may want to pack-

Note- Lots of these items can be bought in bulk on Amazon for a cheaper price than in the local supermarkets.

You may also need to pack things to eat your food with. We were given only two mugs and a teaspoon. Things that you may want to pack includes-

Clothing

Clothing will be the least of your worries while you are in centralised quarantine. I haven’t even bothered dressing the kids most days!

I recommend that you pack just a few outfits along with some hand wash detergent appropriate to the season. If it is summer, don’t waster your luggage space by packing jumpers, for example. Ship them instead!

Having said that, do make sure that you have one warm outfit at least in case the air conditioning is cool!

I also recommend slippers or flip flops. You most likely won’t have any cleaning during your 14 day stay and the floors will get grubby. I have my sliders, which have been great.

I recommend you pack, as a minimum-

  • A few outfits per person appropriate to the season
  • A jumper in case air con is cool
  • Slippers/ flip flops
  • Exercise clothes
  • Comfy outfits
  • Hand wash detergent

Cleaning products

Usually your centralised quarantine hotel room will be clean when you arrive, but it won’t stay that way for long! Therefore, you will want to pack a few essential cleaning supplies to make your stay as pleasant as possible.

You may also want to pack some cleaning equipment (e.g. a travel mop and bucket or a hoover), if this is practical. In China, for example, most people have complained that carpets are unclean on arrival.

Here are a few basics that I would recommend that you pack. You could also order these items upon arrival if your quarantine facility allows- I spoke to one person who ordered a hoover from Tabao!

Entertainment

There are many different entertainment items that you can pack. Here are a few that have worked for us and other people undertaking centralised quarantine-

For kids

Undertaking centralised quarantine with kids can be especially tough. You may not be able to easily get the items that you need during your quarantine period, so make sure that you pack accordingly. Here are some of my suggestions-

How to survive centralised quarantine

All in all, centralised quarantine was about survival. It is tough. These days stuck in this hotel room with my kids have been some of my most difficult days. BUT we are often a lot stronger than we think and we CAN do it! With a bit of preparation and organised packing you can make your stay in centralised quarantine more appealing and dare I say ‘enjoyable’!

I hope that this article has been beneficial to you. Is there anything I have left off? Let me know in the comments box below!

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31 Comments
  1. claire

    Thanks – this is incredibly useful !!

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      I’m glad you have found it helpful!

      Reply
      • Liliane

        Thank you so much! This is really comforting because We’re going to travel in mid setember and I was afraid in separate our family (3 and 4 years old). I’m going to pack more food and entertainment for kids! How do you guys stayed in the same room?

        Reply
        • Dr Hayley Stainton

          I’m glad this has been helpful for you, good luck with the flight and quarantine!

          Reply
      • Thiloshna

        Thank you Hayley. The information you provided is very helpful.

        Reply
        • Dr Hayley Stainton

          You’re welcome. Good luck with your journey!

          Reply
      • Kate Lutz

        Thanks so much for this. I am going to be doing 2 weeks quarantine in Shanghai alone with my 14 month and 38 month old girls. Dreading it…..!

        Reply
        • Dr Hayley Stainton

          Good luck!

          Reply
  2. Fiona

    We will be heading home to shanghai soon – thank you so very much for your posting is was so very helpful.

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      Good luck!

      Reply
  3. Leigh

    This is so helpful – thank you! Our family of four are heading to Hangzhao in a month or so and current status is 7 nights quarantine in Shanghai and another 7 in Hangzhou so this insight is so valuable 🙂

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      I’m glad you have found it helpful, good luck with the move and I hope to see you in Hangzhou soon!

      Reply
  4. Emma S

    Thanks heaps. We have three young kids and I pray for the whole family to be quarantined together!

    Reply
  5. Michael Rothweiler

    Hi Hayley, thanks for your blog. One question: do you know which authority in Shanghai is to be contacted to check whether a parent who is already in China can stay in the same hotel room with the rest who are coming from abroad?
    Thanks and regards
    Michael Rothweiler

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      I suggest you check with your community officer?

      Reply
  6. Meiyou Wang

    Dear Hayley,
    thanks for your helpful article!
    May I know, how have you applied for your husband to quarantine with you together in the hotel room?
    Son of my German Boss (age 13) will fly alone from Zurich to Shanghai on 04 Oct with Swiss Airline. As his son is a minor, who can’t be alone in a hotel room for 2 weeks quarantine, so his father who lives now in Tianjin, intends to stay with him in the same hotel room for 2 weeks quarantine voluntarily.
    Thanks a lot in advance!

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      We requested my husband to join us on arrival at the hotel. I know kids over 14 are put in a room alone but at age 13 I expect he can either apply for home quarantine or have his dad there with him.

      Reply
      • Meiyou Wang

        Dear Hayley,
        thank you very much for your reply!
        What has your husband prepared for the application of the joint quarantine with you and your kids? Or did he just go to your assigned quarantine hotel and tried?
        Unfortunately he can’t apply for home quarantine as he doesn’t have a residence in Shanghai. We will try everything to let him have the joint quarantine with his son in hotel room.
        Thanks a lot and Have a nice evening!

        Reply
        • Dr Hayley Stainton

          My husband spoke with the hotel staff on the phone when we arrived and they organised it from there.

          Reply
  7. Stephen Smith

    Hi Hayley, very informative read.

    I’m due out to China (Nanchang) to install a machine in January, is there a list of quarantine hotels in Shanghai, I’ve tried searching for said list but to no avail.
    Our company has a Chinese agent who lives in Shanghai, who will try to get us a decent western type hotel to stop in whilst quarantining or indicate to us the best hotel to pick from when at the airport.
    I’ve copy & pasted your essential packing list 🙂

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      You cannot choose your hotel, it is allocated on arrival.

      Reply
  8. Mary S

    Thanks so much for your post. Did your youngest need to get a COVID test before or during travel as well? We’re traveling with a 21 month old next week.

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      We travelled before this rule was introduced. But I think everyone needs a test.

      Reply
    • Amy

      Not sure where you got the idea that Chinese people eat cats…they don’t. As an expat living in China and promoting traveling and cultural experiences, you shouldn’t be spreading misinformation that you heard once and got paranoid about. You can state that you’re worried they might serve you meat you usually don’t see on a Western menu, but specifically suggesting cat meat is just wrong and inappropriate.

      Reply
      • Dr Hayley Stainton

        They sell cat in the restaurant opposite my compound. It’s on the menu. Please don’t throw accusations at me, we need to be supportive towards each other during these troubling times, not mean.

        Reply
        • Amy

          I didn’t mean to be mean. I’ve just never heard or seen cat meat on a menu in China. You sure it’s not lost in translation? Also, my main point is that you have a platform and you’re responsible for the words you write, therefore you shouldn’t give your audience the wrong idea. Even if it is on one menu you’ve encountered, it doesn’t mean people will just serve you cat meat out of the blue anywhere you go. You shouldn’t generalize a rare case. Have you ever talked to Chinese people about this?

          Reply
          • Dr Hayley Stainton

            I’ve seen it on many menu and so have other people I know so I don’t think it’s as rare as you might think. Anyway, as an academic I pride myself on being objective in my writing, so I will re-look at this section. Good luck with your journey back to China.

  9. Paige

    Hi Hayley,

    Thanks for this! Super helpful and informative.

    My family and I will be moving to China in early November. We have an 18 month old and are certainly hoping to be able to quarantine with the three of us. Did you have to pay for two rooms even though your husband quarantined with you? I’ve read sometimes they will allow families but they ask you to pay for the second room.

    Also, did you have to do anything to arrange the hotel quarantine? Or once you went through immigration and all of the it was done?

    Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      They arrange it for you when you arrive, it’s a matter of luck where you are put. No, we did not pay for a second room. Good luck with your journey, I have lots of tips on social media if you want to follow along!

      Reply
  10. Matteo

    Hi! This is likely a lifesaving post, so thanks in advance! we are soon moving to Shenzhen and then we need to do a 2 week quarantine period with a 1.8 year old boy …. I know it will be a challenge because he is an outdoor kid… quick question… should I bring diapers or those can be bought from the hotel during quarantine? Thanks a lot!

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      No you cannot usually buy them during quarantine, pack everything you need to survive for two weeks, possibly longer if anyone near you tests positive during your journey.

      Reply

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ABOUT

Dr Hayley Stainton

Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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