Welcome Home! Now Go Straight to Quarantine (or Not)

What’s it like traveling in the time of coronavirus? It depends where you’re going. Epidemic prevention and control measures for international arrivals vary greatly around the world, as New York Times journalists found while traveling in recent months. The severity of outbreaks is similarly varied, but stricter quarantine policies tend to correspond with lower case numbers.


Population: 7.5 million | Cases: About 5,300 | Deaths: 105

Hong Kong is not messing around. Since March, traveling there has meant accepting a 14-day quarantine, a tracking bracelet and a coronavirus test.

Once at home or a hotel, quarantined residents open the phone app and walk around the perimeter to map its boundaries. The app may at any time ask you to scan the QR code on your bracelet to verify your location, and officials might conduct random checks by phone or in person. Violating the quarantine order can mean fines or imprisonment.

Those in quarantine are not permitted to go out for groceries or a walk or even to take out the garbage — you order everything online or ask friends for help. You just keep yourself busy inside your tiny Hong Kong apartment, counting down the days.

Jennifer Jett, digital editor

Breezing Through

Population: 8.4 million | Cases: About 264,000 | Deaths: Almost 24,000

In August, I moved back to New York from Hong Kong with my family. We didn’t know what to expect at Kennedy Airport, but we were ready to navigate whatever safety measures we found.

What we found was nothing, other than one of the quickest trips through the U.S. immigration process we’ve ever experienced in years abroad. No temperature checks. No travel history or contact information paperwork. No order or even suggestion to voluntarily quarantine for two weeks. No apparent enforcement of mask discipline for incoming travelers (though only a few were obviously flouting it).

The only check came at the very end, when the immigration officer perfunctorily asked me whether we had traveled abroad anywhere other than Hong Kong over the previous two weeks. I said no, and he said, “Welcome home.”

Douglas Schorzman, deputy international editor

Burden of Proof

Population: 9 million | Cases: About 30,000 | Deaths: 444

When I flew back to Tokyo from San Francisco in June, Japan’s borders were closed to travelers from more than 100 countries, so the only people arriving were a smattering of Japanese citizens or foreign residents with special exemptions to leave and return after a family emergency — in my case, the death of my father.

The flight had been relatively empty, but to maintain social distancing, flight attendants asked passengers to disembark in small groups. We filled out some forms, had our temperatures taken and shuffled into a waiting area before being called into cubicles for our nasal swab tests.

Clearing customs took nearly an hour while officials checked my documents, including my father’s death certificate and a letter from the funeral home director. They asked me to prove our family relationship, so I frantically texted my husband to send me a digital copy of my birth certificate.

After I retrieved my luggage, I was escorted to an unused baggage hall where cardboard cubicles had been set up for arriving passengers to wait to be picked up. I would be required to quarantine at home for 14 days and had to attest that I would not use public transit to get back to my family’s apartment in central Tokyo. The cubicles contained makeshift cardboard beds for those forced to wait overnight. When my ride arrived, the escort walked me to the curb to confirm that I was not getting into a taxi, which was considered a form of prohibited public transit.

At home, my family had set up an isolation chamber in the bedroom with my desk and our exercise bike nestled by the window. It was a week before I received a call from a local public health center confirming that I was staying inside. The clerk was about to hang up when I asked her about my test results. “Oh, yes,” she said. “You’re negative.”

— Motoko Rich, Tokyo bureau chief

We passed through immigration and picked up our luggage. Still no hints of where we were being sent. Police officers pointed us to lines of waiting buses; families on one bus, solo travelers on another. We climbed aboard, and after some prodding the driver told us that we wouldn’t know our hotel until we arrived — the authorities didn’t want us phoning our families to meet us there and risk infections.

A stroke of good fortune: The bus stopped in front of a luxury hotel overlooking Hyde Park in the city center. But the soldiers chaperoning us to our rooms were a reminder that this was no holiday. I had enough experience with quarantine already this year — three stretches locked in hotel rooms in Beijing, Hong Kong and once before in Sydney — to know how to cope: keep busy with work, stick to a routine, exercise.

Still, the days began to drag. I waited each day for the tap on the door at meal times.

Chris Buckley, chief China correspondent

The next day, my wife got a call saying she and our children had tested negative. She would get a call every day for two weeks from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking if they had any symptoms. And, just to confirm it, she had to fill out the app every day attesting to their well-being. It was essentially the honor system.

At noon on Day 15 of quarantine, my family walked past the hotel’s hallway CCTV camera and out into the open air of Seoul, with no additional tests required.

Andy Parsons, assistant international editor

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