About two months ago I posted about my experiences of traveling by flight during a global pandemic. Now I’m back in Taiwan and since the pandemic situation has changed a bit since last time, I think I should write a bit about how it was to return home to Taiwan.
As you probably know, the corona virus situation started becoming worse in October. Because of this, Germany went into a partial lockdown which meant a few things. First, places where people gather such as museums and most restaurants closed temporarily. Second, rules regarding mask usage and social distancing became stricter than before. The main affect this had one me and my colleagues was that it limited what we could do in the weekends, and limited our food to what we could cook ourselves, or fast food eaten out in the street. While we were still in Germany this was more of an annoyance than any real problem for us; we were still able to do most of the things we would have done otherwise. However, when it came to flying home it made for more of a difference.
We knew when we left Taiwan that we would have to take a Covid test before we could return. For colleagues who had done the same training before us this had been straight forward, but now it became a bit of a problem. You see, the test must be done no more than three days before taking off, but due to the new rules, there were a lot of people wanting tests and the organization normally doing tests couldn’t guarantee results in time for the flight so we were in a bit of trouble. After some effort from the HR department we finally got a company to do the test, all be it at a higher cost than normal. The test itself was pretty simple, a nurse dressed in multiple layers of PPE swabbed our throats then sent us on our way. The next day, less than 24 hours before take off, we got the report by email. Everyone was negative so we would be allowed on the flight.
The airline wanted to be sure we would be admitted into Taiwan before letting us on the plane, so at check in we had to fill in health declaration forms, stating that we had no symptoms, had no known contact with Covid 19 positive people in the last 14 days, as well as where we would be doing or quarantine once back in Taiwan. After handing in these forms we also had to show the negative Covid test reports. Once check in was complete there were no more Covid related formalities on the German side.
In my last post I mentioned that the experience at Frankfurt airport was more or less normal. This time however, it was markedly different. The place wasn’t quite as empty as the airport in Taipei, but a lot of stores were closed, and there were definitely fewer people around than normal. I also noticed that many cafes and restaurants had social distancing measures in place, with tables spaced out or seats blocked off, but they were completely closed now, likely due to the new regulations. To give a better feeling for what it was like, here are some photos I took while walking around:
Signs with corona limitations
Shops closed due to pandemic restrictions
Empty corridors and waiting areas
I had felt safe flying out from Taiwan, but with the situation in Germany being what it was, I decided to take some extra precautions during the flight. I of course had to wear a mask, but in addition to that I wore a suit covering my entire body, as well as a pair of safety glasses. I also wore a pair of disposable gloves to wipe down my seat and the area around it with alcohol wipes, just to be extra safe. This wasn’t 100% safe since I still had to eat and go to the bathroom, but far safer than just wearing the mask as per regulations.
When we landed in Taiwan there was a special procedure set up for us. First, we had to line up (with social ditancing) in one of the corridors where airport staff checked our passports and corona test reports. They then instructed us to go to a certain website where we could access our online health declarations and store them in our phones. Next came a checkpoint where we had to show this online declaration, as well as the corona test results to some people who checked us off on some kind of list. Normally, as a permanent resident I can just go through immigration without filling in any forms, but this time I had to fill one in with the address of the quarantine hotel I would be staying in. Finally, at immigration I had to show the corona test report along with the standard paperwork.
Once through immigration it would normally be a case of picking up the luggage, walking through the “Nothing to declare” lane at customs and find a train to my home town. Due to the pandemic however, me and my colleagues all had to go to quarantine. Basically you have to spend 14 days at a designated location, either at home or in a special quarantine hotel, in order to make sure you aren’t infected. During your quarantine you have to follow a number of rules and if you break them you get fined.
First, you are not allowed to travel by public transport. You can use a private car but most people take a taxi which is what I did. This meant showing the online health declaration at the taxi stand and getting my luggage sprayed down with alcohol before I could get in the car. Second, once you are checked in you are not allowed to leave the room, we were even warned against stepping out into the corridor outside the room, and you are not allowed any visitors. To make sure you follow these rules the government makes use of security camera in the hotel as well as tracking your mobile phone. I can’t speak for the people quarantining at home, but for us in the hotel this meant that the staff had to deliver food to us and take care of our trash and laundry. All of this was done without any direct contact, they would leave food and other supplies at the door and we could pick it up when they had left. Third, in addition to staying inside the designated location, you also have to report our health status, including body temperature, to the authorities on a daily basis. I think these rules are rather strict, especially the fact that they can fine you for just setting foot out the door, but I believe it is necessary. Less strict rules would mean higher risk of travelers unknowingly spreading the infection.
One more thing about quarantine: it was pretty boring to be stuck in the same room for two weeks and I really longed to be go outside, maybe take a walk in the park, especially when the weather was good. I can however recognize that two weeks in quarantine isn’t much compared to months long lockdowns. I realize how tough it must have been for people going through that and how lucky I am to live in a country where that didn’t happen. Now I’m out of quarantine and back to my normal life and it feels good.