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Reopening China after COVID-19 by Stephanie Quayle

There is hopeful news from China, which is very carefully, and in a controlled way, returning to some sense of normality following COVID-19. For schools, this involves strict and closely managed preparation for reopening.

It was announced today (Monday 23rd March) that schools in Jiangsu Province may be able to open again from Monday 30th March.  Cities located within Jiangsu Province include Suzhou, Nanjing, Nantong, Zhenjiang and Changzhou.

Jiangsu will stagger the opening of the spring semester, starting from March 30th with graduating students of middle and high school (i.e. grade 9 and grade 12). Schools with middle, primary and kindergarten years can begin to prepare for these students to return from 7th April. Universities and colleges in Jiangsu Province are preparing to reopen from April 13th. The reopening dates have been approved by the CPC Jiangsu Provincial Committee and Jiangsu Provincial People’s Government. 

Schools will need to be able to demonstrate that public health is guaranteed within their school grounds before they are allowed to reopen.

In Shanghai, where the ISC Research China office is based, there is no news yet on when the schools in the city might reopen. Some international schools have asked their expatriate teachers to return in preparation for school reopening. The journeys are challenging for many, due to the huge number of cancelled flights and the resulting need for multiple stopovers.  All passengers now arriving in Shanghai must be immediately tested for the virus at special health centres close to the airport. People returning are experiencing anything from a minimum of eight hours at the testing centre and some have been there for more than three days. If the virus test is positive at the special health centre, new arrivals are taken to designated hospitals for quarantine and further tests. If the test is negative, people are escorted to their apartments, and must complete 14 days home isolation. Some families have seals around their apartment doors to prevent them going out. Local community representatives oversee the quarantine and ensure food supplies are delivered to apartments. 

Some international schools, fearing that the virus rates in the UK and Europe will make it impossible for staff to get back to China once borders are closed, have made a relatively early call to mobilise staff to return. As it is becoming increasingly difficult to travel back to China, other international schools may find it much harder to re-open than local schools.

In Beijing, the queues at the medical testing centres have led to the diversion of all international flights due to land in the capital. Instead, they are diverted to other airports in China for testing. If their tests are clear, they re-embark and fly on to Beijing.

Mainland China is reporting almost no domestic cases of the virus recently. All new cases are people returning from overseas. The Chinese authorities are now focused on keeping the country free from re-infection. As someone who has been back in Shanghai for many weeks, it is most reassuring to know that the streets of the city are virus free.

Stephanie Quayle is an East Asia consultant and field-based researcher for ISC Research.