Testing Times

Between 14 February and 2 June 2022 we were tested 63 times at school and I can only tell you that because our nurses told me. It doesn’t include the tests that we had in the mobile van that come every day at 2:30pm opposite our school at McDonalds, nor does it include going to test at the weekends at the testing site 1.2km away from school. 

We haven’t been given the testing at home kits, although as a friend in the UK spotted they are made in a city not far from us. so with no home test kits we have to plan our tests for the optimal time and place. (*Breaking news – 8 December- the kits were made available to us!!!!)

24 or 48 or 72 hours – different requirements for different people depending on the situation… 

During lockdown in school our dedicated nursing team moved into boarding with us so that we were tested every day. Despite the fact that we were one huge bubble interacting with no one else and were the safest group of people, the tests continued. Even when the requirement in school reduced from every day to every three days, Martin and I continued our institutionalised ritual of testing every day. 

Our testing at school was held outside and initially was done by school nurses with our information inputted manually each time. – passport number, age, gender, phone number and name. This took a massive amount of manpower, and the nursing and admin teams would be regularly in school late in the evening inputting the data. Shortly after the others came back to school after all the lockdowns, the school outsourced the collection of throat swabs. Expat staff had to have their data inputted manually while our local staff just had to present their photo ID which was scanned and data seemed to magically transfer across. Thankfully though towards the end of June and now at the beginning of the new school term a QR code is scanned and then we test. Technology has moved on in the last couple of months! 

Even our testing site was upgraded from gazebos to very substantial tent tunnels for queuing and a portakabin complete with air conditioning for our testers.

As I am now finishing this blog in October (hohoho – Now finishing it 13 Dec 2022), all day staff and students now test once a week. However, those of us getting the VIP service (that is how the education bureau describe us) are the nursing, outsourced and boarding staff and we are tested 4 times a week. 

On a Sunday I had to go out and find a testing centre, however, a couple of weeks ago disaster struck when I go and find the gates closed with a map. Thankfully I was able to work it out and found myself no longer in a deserted factory area, but on a crossroads. I only had to test there twice, as we then had a new test booth open up due south of school. 

Every Saturday, I would get on the equivalent of a Boris Bike and cycle down, test, cycle back to school, and then see either students or staff do the same. 

October and November get a bit hazy with regards to what was actually needed for normal people, or not VIPS during the week, as school testing continued every day for various people, and a couple of us got into the habit of getting everyone out of boarding and testing at 8am.

Then the edict came out in late November that everyone should test at school and not in compounds during mass testing days. There had been rumours that the testing was “purer” at school as it wasn’t being mixed with other random people. Tests in compounds meant that your test was combined with 20 or so people, same in school – but everyone was known at school. In compounds you didn’t know who you were testing with. 

Testing also became more aggressive, it was no longer a light tinkling of the tonsils, but a very definite swab of the back of the throat, tongue and to the sides – I had previously been able to control my gag reflex, but not under the new regime. 

Also, it became mandatory for weekend testing to happen before a Monday, so my bicycle rides stopped in favour of the nurses once again coming on site for testing on Saturdays. Handy for the boarding staff as we didn’t have to worry about ensuring that the termly boarders tested outside, we just had to wake them up instead!

Then suddenly 28 November, we were informed campus was closed. Within spitting distance of the end of term we were closed. A close contact. We had played Russian roulette for about 3 weeks, people would go out – usually to the Suzhou Centre – a big shopping mall and then three days later, they would get a call from the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) and either self isolate or in some unfortunate circumstances be taken into central quarantine. School’s mock exams took place, but a few missed them having eaten at Shake Shack, a long awaited restaurant opening that was subsequently marred with cases. Though having been past it the other day – it is still popular and hasn’t been unduly affected. 

Campus closing was a big blow to us. But in a turn of events, Eleanor’s school didn’t close. And having been told we were closing for 7 days, we were able to open 1 day earlier. Everyone was told to test 5 days over 7 days, and even as the week progressed that requirement lessened. 

As soon as our school opened there was then a positive case within the college community. Despite that being worse than a close contact, the requirement was only the year group, and some teachers were required to be online. There was an air of disbelief and astonishment when two days later everyone was back at school (except those who had tested positive), we were told that testing wasn’t happening for the rest of the school week and there was an air of optimism. 

Suddenly, when we entered into public spaces our test results weren’t looked at, and if you have been following the news, you will see that people in China are no longer being asked for trackers to prove where we have been in the last seven days (previously it had been 14 days!) 

However, on Thursday 8th, all students and teachers everywhere in Suzhou had to test. It looks like testing will still be a thing in school. 

We have been regulated for so long, when we had to go to Shanghai in September for a medical appointment, we couldn’t check into the hotel without a covid test, and then had to test every day we were there. In Shanghai there were huts all over the city, so it was easy enough. Coming back to Suzhou though, we then tested on the highway at the border of Suzhou as we weren’t allowed back into school without a test in Suzhou.

A lot of the students also got round this rule by doing exactly this… if they had gone to Shanghai when the rule was 3 tests in 3 days, their parents would drive them to the border, test on the Suzhou side and then drive back to Shanghai – therefore defeating the purpose of testing in Suzhou – testing in the city meant that you weren’t leaving it – but there are ways and means!

In the summer, we also tested at a hospital in Xiamen, where the laowai (foreigner in Chinese) figured out the registration before some of the locals, which led us to believe they hadn’t been subjected to the mass testing that we had been in Suzhou.

My last test??I have got on my first international flight tonight, and while I tested one last time on Monday, no one has looked at those test results. The mantra appears to be – no one cares anymore – or at least not while school is on holiday.

To test or not. The helpline 12345 told my colleague that we didn’t need to test to get into Hangzhou International Airport, and none of our colleagues needed to test to get into Pudong or Hongqiao airports in Shanghai, but there was still that element of doubt – what if we needed it… or what if we tested positive…

My last test in Suzhou, China 12/12/2022 – negative (in case you were wondering!)