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

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Brian Hall fled Shanghai in June to avoid another lockdown of his residential compound, escaping to China’s tropical tourist island of Hainan where he could work remotely as a public health professor after undertaking 10 days of quarantine.

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

“It has become impossible to leave the city. The hotel where I am staying is sealed and guests are not permitted to leave our rooms according to the city’s instructions,” Hall told Reuters via email.


Hainan province is one of the several Chinese regions that had seen relatively few cases for more than two years which are now battling outbreaks, raising the risk of persistent tight restrictions as the economy weakens.

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

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

“It is not so much the lockdown here, but the memories of the Shanghai lockdown that have revisited me, and the sense of unease about what the fall will bring in Shanghai and elsewhere.”

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

Although low by global standards, authorities on the island have locked down millions of residents, state media reported, as part of China’s “dynamic COVID-zero” policy that aims to stamp out outbreaks as soon as possible. People are only allowed out only for certain reasons such as COVID tests, grocery shopping and essential job roles.

About 178,000 tourists were stranded in Hainan, including around 57,000 in Sanya, state media has reported.


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

“We must remain flexible in our plans and able to accept these disruptions if we desire to live and work here.”

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