Coronavirus: From Shanghai to Seoul to Zagreb: Why I Felt Safer in China

Total Croatia News

February 25, 2020 – How seriously is Croatia taking the coronavirus threat? An alarming account from a recent air passenger from Shanghai to Seoul to Zagreb. 

I don’t believe in doing clickbait articles, especially when the topic is a negative one. I also don’t believe in scaremongering, and I am aware that our portal is widely read internationally and used by many as the source of news about Croatia. It is one of the reasons we have a focus on positivity and constructive criticism. Of course, this being Croatia, one cannot be positive all the time, given the absurd nature of life in this beautiful country. But we also have a duty to report and inform on important matters. 

There are – at time of writing -still no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Croatia, thankfully. On the streets of Zagreb yesterday, I counted three masked pedestrians all day, and so while the topic is close by (all the more so with 7 deaths in Italy at a time when many Croats were in Italy for the cancelled Venice carnival), it is still a topic which is joked about a lot in the cafes – a problem elsewhere that is not affecting Croatia. 

And then I read a Facebook post from a friend who had recently returned to Croatia from China, flying into Zagreb from Seoul via Doha, having started from Shanghai. She posted at her shock at the lack of any controls or registering of passengers on arrival, and the lack of checking of passengers’ travel history. As a responsible citizen, she declared that she had been in China and submitted herself to an examination to a doctor at the airport (who wore neither mask nor gloves). She was the only passenger to do so. All the other passengers melted away into the Croatian capital and beyond. Unchecked and untraced. I contacted her for more information about her time in China and South Korea and the return to Croatia. We communicated online, for she is sat at home away from people. Just in case. 

She flew to China for a holiday in January and was due to return in early February, but as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus, all flights were cancelled at the end of January. 

Daily life in China changed very quickly as the central and local government adapted to the new situation. She had clear instructions from local authorities regarding things she could and could not do anymore. She told me that it is very important to note the role of the community and taking care of others in Chinese culture. It is different from the European way, and Chinese people always think about their community and country. They have the ancient philosophy in their blood

For the first few days, there was a little confusion but no panic, although it t is true that masks, detergents, all products for disinfection were quickly gone from the shelves. The authorities ordered people to register for masks and she received hers after a few days. People had to register close to their house or even at the entrance to avoid crowds. Afterwards, they got a message when and where to pick up the masks for the family.

“It is important to say that these masks prevent the spread of the virus from a sick person but they do not protect so much if you have a mask but the person next to you is coughing and sneezing but does not wear a mask. Since this virus could be asymptomatic for a long time and we are not aware of how long, it is important to wear masks to protect other people.  It is something people in Europe cannot understand. They laugh at you, because they think you are crazy and in panic mode.

“I saw that in Zagreb on arrival.

“But back to China: Immediately after the epidemic started, all museums, theatres, parks, cinemas etc were closed. All Lunar New Year parties and celebrations were cancelled. All company dinners were cancelled. People were told to wear masks everywhere they went. It was impossible to enter the bus, metro, public places without a mask. Temperatures were taken in front of supermarkets, shopping malls, hotels. Railway stations and metros had thermo cameras to screen all passengers and if someone had a temperature higher than 37.3, they were isolated. Very quickly it became punishable by law if you did not wear a mask. They use facial recognition technology to send a fine to the person who breaks the rules. There are even drones which spot people without masks which a message to put the mask on or go inside immediately. There were also several applications to track the spread of coronavirus. 

“In the first few days, food prices in shops went up very quickly. It was reported to the Communist Party and very quickly the shops with this practice were fined or closed, and prices came back to normal. This all happened at the busiest travel time of the year – the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, when the whole country is on the road.

“Shanghai is usually empty during New Year as most of its residents return to their villages and towns. Shanghai was very afraid of the mass return of millions of people – the city has 25 mln people. That is why they announced that schools, kindergartens, universities would remain closed until further notice. Companies could not start work before February 9, and those who could work from home were prohibited from coming back to the office.

“Shanghai decided to go on lockdown to stop the virus. It means that till now anyone without permanent stay in Shanghai could not come back to the city. Airports, railway stations, highways were checking everybody who came back to the city. From 51 highway entrances to Shanghai, only 13 remained open so they could scan everybody and could measure the temperature of everybody. Everybody who comes back to the city HAS TO stay 14 days in home quarantine if  there are no symptoms. Those with symptoms were immediately transferred to hospitals or quarantine units.

“FOR FOREIGNERS: We had an emergency number to call 24h if we had any questions regarding the virus. It was also an emergency number for people who did not feel well and had mental problems due to the situations or could not cope with all restrictions. It was also the number for help to children and animals who due to quarantined owners were left alone at home. We got also a new “passport” to enter our accommodation. Nobody else could enter the building. ONLY PEOPLE WHO LIVED THERE. NO FRIENDS ALLOWED. NO VISITS.

“Every time our temperature was taken on our way in and out. They even sent people door to door to enter every apartment to check how everybody is. If somebody looked sick, there were immediately taken to hospital.

“BUILDINGS: public buildings were disinfected a few times per day. Ours was disinfected twice a day with special attention paid to the elevator: buttons covered with plastic and disinfected with chlorine twice a day. Hand cleaning facilities were everywhere. Restaurants were completely closed with the lockdown. Only those who could serve take away food could work. People could not enter inside. Everybody needed to wait outside to avoid closed spaces. 

“I am amazed at how well the Chinese dealt with this unprecedented situation. Their crisis management skills are to be studied in the future. I guess it is easier due to the system they have in the country which looks like the best system ever in times of crisis like this. I was very saddened by the opinions of people who tried to put the blame on the Chinese people, their culture and way of life. Most of those people I guess have never been to China

“I do not want to criticise Croatia or the European Union at this time, but I hope this can help a little to understand how serious the situation is and that we must act quickly and coordinate all forces. I only hope there will be enough money transferred to this cause. We should be grateful to China for what they did regarding the quarantine of 750 mln people. It could be already rampant all around the world if they did not.

“I can add that I arrived in Zagreb via Seoul and Doha. In Seoul: there is a special section of the airport for people arriving from China. Everybody is checked first by thermal camera and if they pass that point, they go to quarantine officers for interview. You have to give your passport, address, mobile phone and they check immediately if it is correct. They call you immediately. If the number is wrong you pay a fine and risk quarantine for 14 days. Then you have to download an application which sends you messages for 14 days. You have to fill out a questionnaire every day: temperature, cough, sore throat etc. After this, you receive a certificate and you may go to immigration. Even before you board the plane you have to fill out a health declaration.

“Things are very different flying into Zagreb. Since there are no direct flights with China, nobody really checks. I declared myself that I was in China and gave my data to the police and doctor. I feel that more should be done. I was very surprised to see that the doctor at Zagreb airport did not even have a mask or gloves. This is not expensive and should be a minimum. After my experience of everyone being masked in China, I was a little afraid I may catch something from the doctor… 

“Many people from Croatia have visited China and come back recently and if you do not tell the police and gave them your ID instead of passport it looks like you may pass. It is hard to believe but it looks like that. 

“Since I have declared my stay in China I have to call the doctor every day and report my health. That is all.

“I kept my mask on, but the other 10 or so people just took off their masks before leaving the plane. I went home and am staying at home. I do not want to criticise, but I was VERY surprised at the lack of control in Zagreb when I came back from Asia, especially after all the hard work which has been done in China and South Korea. It makes us look somewhat ignorant. Although they are much bigger countries, they also have the money, knowledge and mentality to beat coronavirus. Sadly I do not see it here.”

A fascinating account. I had one last question. 

With the coronavirus threat, do you feel safer in China or Croatia? 

“I felt much safer in China.”

To follow the latest on the threat of coronavirus in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section

The Croatian Government announced new measures to combat the virus on February 24.


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