Ever since China managed to successfully beat COVID-19 in Wuhan, the original epicentre of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in central Hubei province, Chinese authorities have relentlessly pursued a ‘Covid Zero’ strategy. The tactic allowed the residents of Wuhan to party when the rest of the world was locked down but has more recently led to the imposition of merciless and draconian measures to keep out variants like Delta and Omicron.
One person who knows more about these aggressive pandemic controls than most others is China Southern’s self-styled ‘King of Quarantine’ Ma Jian, an Airbus A380 Captain for the Guangzhou-based airline, who spent more than half a year in isolation in 2021.
According to the airline, Jian spent 189 days or 4,536 hours in quarantine through the course of last year as he flew China Southern’s superjumbos between Guandong province and Los Angeles, as well as Amsterdam and a smattering of other international destinations including Melbourne.
China has largely been cut off from the rest of the world since the start of the pandemic as it grapples to keep the virus out and those who are allowed to enter the country must spend at least 14-days in institutional quarantine before being released. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing warns that release requires a negative COVID-19 which includes blood samples and possibly even anal swabs.
Airline staff aren’t exempt from those strict rules so Chinese pilots and cabin crew work in what is known as a ‘closed loop’ in which they move between work and quarantine without being allowed to step outside or see their families or friends for weeks or even months at a time.
On its Weibo social media page, China Southern said its staff knew what was expected of them: “Every China Southern Airlines pilot knows that they maintain the stability of the international logistics supply chain and have become a symbol of China’s national strength during the epidemic.”
Ma Jian spent just 75 days on duty and 505 hours flying last year during which time he transported 5,520 passengers and ‘countless’ supplies around the world.
The airline also featured flight attendant Liu Hui who has spent 310 days locked in quarantine since the start of the pandemic.
“Witness the confidence and strength injected by China Southern Airlines to China’s fight against the epidemic and the global fight against the epidemic,” the airline said in its Weibo post.
The same quarantine tactics have been employed by Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong where staff spent more than 73,000 nights trapped in quarantine last year. The majority of that time was spent in hotel isolation in ‘closed loop’ working but 1,000 crew spent more than 11,000 nights in the notorious Penny’s Bay quarantine camp.
But as the rest of the world slowly starts the painful process of learning to live with Covid, China has shown no such appetite for letting the virus become endemic. Even with multiple outbreaks in cities around China, authorities say they will ‘dynamically clear’ the virus wherever it pops up.
Ma and Liu could be spending a lot more time in quarantine in 2022. TOTH Simple Flying
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.