NYU student flees COVID lockdowns in Shanghai, only to be stranded in Hainan

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Brian Hall fled Shanghai in June to avoid another lockdown of his apartment complex, fleeing to China’s tropical tourist island of Hainan, where he could work remotely as a public health professor after undergoing a 10-day quarantine.

Hall, who has worked at New York University Shanghai for the past two years, is now stuck in Sanya, Hainan’s major tourism hub, with no clarity on when he might leave.

“Leaving the city is impossible. The hotel I’m staying at is closed and guests are not allowed to leave our rooms according to city instructions,” Hall told Reuters by email.

Lockdowns remain in place even after Shanghai city hits ‘Zero Covid’ milestone

Hainan province is one of several Chinese regions that have seen relatively few cases for more than two years now struggling with outbreaks, raising the risk of continued tightening of restrictions as the economy weakens.

As China sticks to its strict “zero-COVID” policy, a delivery worker has to pass deliveries over a locked-down neighborhood barrier in Sanya, Hainan province, China, on August 6, 2022.

“My emotions naturally range from complete denial and disbelief to anger, sadness and ultimately hopelessness,” said Hall, who is liked by millions in Shanghai, which endured a strict two-month lockdown earlier this year.

“It’s not the lockdown here, but the memories of the Shanghai lockdown have revisited me and the feeling of anxiety about what the fall will bring to Shanghai and elsewhere.”

Hainan, which recorded only two local symptomatic COVID-19 cases last year, had already reported more than 1,800 domestically transmitted infections in August.

Although low by global standards, the island’s authorities have locked down millions of residents, state media reported, as part of China’s “dynamic COVID-zero” policy aimed at sealing the outbreak as quickly as possible. People are only allowed outside for certain reasons, such as COVID tests, grocery shopping and essential work roles.

State media reported that about 178,000 tourists were stranded in Hainan, including about 57,000 in Sanya.

Virus tests new normal as China clings to ‘Zero-Covid’

Hall, who has to stay in his room and relies on the hotel for daily needs including food and water, said he couldn’t predict what might happen but had to take it as it came.

“We have to be flexible in our plans and be able to accept these obstacles if we want to live and work here.”

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