More About the Separate Quarantine at US Mission China

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Yesterday, we posted: FS family members 14 and up are forcibly quarantined separately from their families in China?  As often the case when we post questions in this blog, we get a reaction. Below is what we learned from a correspondent who is currently serving in China and who has “happily extended” their tour there. Our correspondent gave a different perspective about the quarantine process upon arrival in China and life there during the pandemic. He/She also answered additional questions we have.
Quarantine with children
— The quarantine rules, including those affecting children have been known by the entire mission and the EAP bureau a year ago.
— If there are two parents, they decide who takes what kid during quarantine. For single parents, you take all the kids and be in the same room; the bed is reportedly extra large king. In the case of illness concerning a baby or a young child, the PRC would allow one parent to stay at the hospital under the negotiated agreement. This was not the case at the beginning; apparently, there was a three month old baby of French diplomats who stayed alone in the hospital although reportedly with “constant monitoring.”
— When ill, mission employees go to two hospitals where the doctors are 20% Western and the Chinese doctors have been educated in the US, UK, or Australia.
— Diplomats are lodged at franchise hotel in Shanghai and Guangzhou with room sizes similar to a that of a regular Marriott room with about 420 sqft of space.
— The hotel offers at least Chinese, Muslim, Western menus that are “quite cheap.” There are additional choices from the VIP menu with a higher price but still within the authorized per diem.
— Last year, people could order online but this privilege was rescinded for fresh food because it was apparently sprayed with disinfectant upon arrival, so people could only order closed/canned foods. There is second hand account attributed to folks who recently concluded their quarantine that people were able to order salads, cheese, etc. again this year.
— Diplomats are allowed to do part of their quarantine at home, unlike other people (for example, business people). We were informed that EAP/Mission negotiated this. Also in late December, China started requiring a second test (blood) from an approved lab in a city with direct flights to China. Despite these precautions, there are reportedly continuing imported cases from Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Beijing and now Shanghai reportedly require a third week of quarantine with relaxed protocol like a hotel where the families can be together. For our diplomats, the negotiated agreement is that this third week can be done at home.
— The correspondent pointed out that the assignment in China requires an investment of at least a year of language but signing up for the Foreign Service requires acceptance of assignments that include hardships.
— We understand that people can curtail their assignments as some employees did last summer; they never went back after the evacuation.
We asked about the rationale for the cut-off age; 12 year olds are allowed to stay with parents but 14 year olds must quarantine separately?
Our correspondent said that previously, this was kids who are 15 and above. Now the requirement to quarantine separately is 14 years and above. Our correspondent did not have a clear answer but points at the likelihood that local authorities have probably determined that this is the age when kids are infected or transmitting like adults.
Medevac Flights
Our correspondent confirmed that the Department used charter flights to transport people back to Mission China last year. There were standby flights to return anyone who tested positive back to the U.S. “Happened once.” We learned that the Department stopped the charters in September/October when majority of the staff had returned or arrived PCS. Incoming staff to China used commercial flights thereafter.
Communication
Our correspondent said EAP and Mission China were  “almost too communicative”.  Our correspondent pointed out that in June-August, China folks received three emails per week to update them “of the progress.”  They apparently also had a FAQs with over 30 pages. A separate source notes that while the transfer season is always busy,  there is a special China packet, as well as town halls that people should read/tune in.
Isolation
Our correspondent said that “most kids 14-18 were actually happy” to be able to be on their cellphone and other social media without their parents on their back. “With Skype or WeChat you can have video calls if you wish, you are not isolated.”
Life During a Pandemic
Our correspondent explained that Beijing was never in lockdown, the embassy never closed its doors, that people continued to go to work, restaurants remained open, etc.  He/She asks, “Is 14 days a hard price to pay for a regular life?”  He/She writes, “It is much better than over a year of lockdowns, curfews, and other restrictions and worrying to catch the virus.”
At the end of the day, the sentiment expressed by our correspondent is — we are all extremely happy that China has strict rules because it meant a regular life (with a mask) for all Posts (except Wuhan).
One anecdotal evidence from a recently returned employee from China expressed a similar sentiment, that the quarantine process “sucked” but when it was done, they were able to move around and live a “more normal” daily life – although with masks.
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FS family members 14 and up are forcibly quarantined separately from their families in China?

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Below from Sender A:
State is forcing teenage EFMs 14 and up to forcibly quarantine separately from their families in China. Imagine PCS’ing to a new post and being told the 14 year old child had to quarantine for two weeks alone in a hotel room separated from their parents. How did L sign off on this? This is a legal nightmare waiting to unfold. What 14 year old should be locked alone in a room for two weeks and have all their food brought to them…. no food delivery allowed. What if the child struggles from 14 days of isolation?

We’ve learned previously from a separate source that the Department is requiring employees to fulfill local quarantine rules on arrival in a country, as they apply to diplomats. That’s expected. It would not want the perception of skirting local rules amidst a global pandemic. Back in March, when Mainland China news alleged that the US staffers claimed diplomatic immunity to avoid quarantine in Hong Kong, the State Department pushed back and called it “absolutely false.”
A former ambassador pointed out that Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that “Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State.” The former official noted that under the normal course of events, an undertaking to quarantine within the embassy premises would normally be agreeable to the local authorities.
We understand that some countries have even waived them for diplomats or allowed diplomats to do it at their embassy quarters. We’re talking about quarantine at entry as opposed to an isolation required due to illness.  But not China. One source called its entry requirements, the “most onerous.” The quarantine is reportedly for all “regardless of test status.”  We were informed that this involves “something like 14 days in a hotel in the arrival city and then a stay at home for another 7 days in your destination city, with multiple tests along the way.”
The EAP bureau and Mission China were supposedly communicating to FS people relocating to China what the requirements are and what they should expect. The rules are “rigid and exacting” we were told.  We understand that a particularly egregious requirement is that couples have to quarantine separately. We were, however, told that the United States had supposedly “received earlier assurances” from the Chinese that in situation where kids are involved, at least one parent would be able to stay with the children.
So, if teens are now being quarantined alone, and separate from the parent/parents — what happened?
  • 1) Is this a case of arbitrary enforcement of local laws?
  • 2) If they’re separating 14 year olds from their parents for the quarantine, why is 14 the magic number?
  • 3) So the host country just now decided not to follow through with its prior assurances, why?
  • 4) Was this so unexpected EAP and Mission China did not get a chance to forewarn incoming FS families?
  • 5) Did State/L sign off on this? If yes, why?If not, what is it going to do about it – just let families bear it?
  • 6) USG and China must have exchanged Diplomatic Notes, what’s in it?
Excerpt from US Mission China’s COVID-19 Information updated on April 20, 2021:

All travelers, including U.S. citizens who enter China, are screened upon arrival and subject to a minimum 14-day quarantine. While restrictions around domestic travel within China have eased, local quarantine requirements can vary significantly between cities, and regulations can change very quickly. All international arrivals should be prepared to complete quarantine at a government-selected facility or hotel at their own expense, with no control over the amenities, even if they maintain a residence in China. Cities and provinces within China may also require quarantine for domestic travelers, regardless of nationality.

The US Consulate General in Hong Kong has an update dated May 10:

Starting May 12, 2012, fully vaccinated individuals will be able to reduce their quarantine by 7 days. Fully vaccinated travelers from the United States will complete 14 days in a designated quarantine hotel and then self-monitor the remaining 7 days. For full information about reduced quarantine, please see the Hong Kong government’s press release.

When we previously blogged about quarantine, the former ambassador also pointed out that our relations with the Chinese “have involved scapegoating them for their failure instantly to recognize and act to control the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, coupled with all sorts of conspiracy theories and uncouth accusations by our former secretary of state and others.  So, it would not be surprising that they would not cut us much slack.”
What else is going on between US and China the last couple of months?
On April 8, 2021, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added seven Chinese supercomputing entities to the Entity List for conducting activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.
On May 10, the SFRC approved S. 1169 Strategic Competition Act of 2021 signaling bipartisan support in “laying out a strategic approach towards Beijing – and assuring that the United States is positioned to compete with China across all dimensions of national and international power for decades to come”.

 

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SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas Swears-In U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau

 

The new U.S. Ambassador to Mexico had a ceremonial swearing at the State Department officiated by SCOTUS Associate Justice Clarence Thomas last week.
Ambassador Landau was officially sworn in as United States Ambassador to Mexico on August 12, 2019. His bio says that after graduating from law school, he clerked for then-Judge Clarence Thomas of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  He later clerked for Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court of the United States during the 1990 and 1991 terms.
His father, George Walter Landau (1920–2018), a career Foreign Service officer, served as U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay from October 13, 1972–October 14, 1977. Ambassador George Landau who also served as U.S. Ambassador to Chile and Venezuela passed away last year.
The new ambassador speaks fluent Spanish, and earned a Certificate in Latin American Studies at Harvard College.  He was born in Madrid, Spain, and attended the American School of Asunción, Paraguay, for five years.

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United Airlines Changes Unaccompanied Minor (UM) Policy For Kids Traveling Alone

Posted: 12:49 am EDT
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An FS member alerted us about a recent change in United Airlines’ unaccompanied minor (UM) policy.  “It had been optional to be an unaccompanied minor for those 12 and above — now everyone under 16 is required to pay an extra $150, fly only on direct United flights, and be handed off at the gate by a guardian or caregiver at each end.”

Apparently, United was the last of the three major airlines with a permissive UM policy.  Delta and American already required the UM service for those under 15, although minors were allowed to change planes.

Our correspondent asks: “Is M/FLO engaged on this?  There will presumably, be a significant impact on 9th and 10th graders from the foreign affairs community attending boarding school in the USA while their parents are abroad.  Combine these UM policies with city-pair rules, requiring the use of a contract carrier when travel is USG-paid, and I see an interesting Catch 22 brewing.”

We’ve asked the FLO but have not received a response.

Below via United:

For tickets purchased on or after December 14, 2015, children 5 to 15 years of age who travel on an aircraft without a parent, a legal guardian or someone who is at least 18 years of age are considered unaccompanied minors and are subject to certain restrictions. Travel arrangements for these young travelers can be booked through united.com or the United Customer Contact Center.

Information for children traveling alone

  • Unaccompanied minors can only travel on nonstop flights operated by United or United Express®. United does not offer unaccompanied minor service to or from other airlines’ flights.
  • Children younger than 5 years of age are not accepted as unaccompanied minors.
  • Children 5 to 15 years of age who are traveling alone must use our unaccompanied minor service. A service charge will apply.
  • Unaccompanied minor service is not available for children over age 15. Children ages 16 and 17 may travel alone on any United- or United Express-operated flights.
Children 5 to 15 years of age who are not accompanied on an aircraft by a parent, a legal guardian or someone who is at least 18 years of age are considered unaccompanied minors and are subject to certain restrictions. Travel arrangements for these young travelers can be booked through united.comor the United Customer Contact Center.

Information for children traveling alone

  • Unaccompanied minors can only travel on nonstop flights operated by United or United Express®. United does not offer unaccompanied minor service to or from other airlines’ flights.
  • Children younger than 5 years of age are not accepted as unaccompanied minors.
  • Children 5 to 15 years of age who are traveling alone must use our unaccompanied minor service and pay the applicable service charge.
  • Children ages 12 to 17 can use United’s unaccompanied minor service for travel on nonstop flights operated by United or United Express, or they can travel as adults on any flights without using United’s unaccompanied minor service.

Service charges

Children traveling unaccompanied pay the regular adult fare. An additional service charge is collected to cover extra handling required when an unaccompanied child travels. Please confirm this charge when placing your reservation.

The service charge is $150 each way for children traveling with United’s unaccompanied minor service to any destination. The unaccompanied minor service charge may be paid at the time of reservation, or prior to departure at a United check-in counter.

FAQ: Frequently asked questions

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American Airlines says on its website that its unaccompanied minor service is to ensure your child is boarded onto the aircraft, introduced to the flight attendant, chaperoned during connections and released to the appropriate person at their destination.

  • The unaccompanied minor service fee is $150 (plus tax) each way
  • 2 or more unaccompanied minors from the same family, traveling on the same flights, will only be charged $150 (plus tax) each way

American Airlines will not accept unaccompanied minors when their itineraries include a connection to/from another airline, including codeshare and oneworld® partners and ground/co-terminal connections (unaccompanied minors under 15 years, can’t use ground transportation alone). Read more here.

Delta Airlines also provides special services for children who are flying by themselves. Children 5-14 years of age traveling without an adult (18 years plus) are considered an Unaccompanied Minor (UMNR) and must participate in the airlines’ UMNR program.  Unaccompanied Minor (UMNR) service is mandatory for ages 5-14. Children ages 15-17 are not required to have unaccompanied service; however, we will provide the service if requested. The UMNR service fee will apply. Read more here.

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Happy December! Amb. Adams Had Already Met With the Real Santa in Helsinki

Posted: 12:53 am EDT
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Via
US Embassy Finland/FB:

You’ll never guess who the Ambassador just met in Rovaniemi…the real Santa Claus! We can’t share what he wished for (or it won’t come true). But we can share that he is participating in the #RovaniemiProcess. We all wish the best for Santa’s home in the Arctic and the #RovaniemiProcess will help make that happen. Check it out to learn more: http://www.rovaniemiprocess.fi/en

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Ambassador Charles Adams, Jr. was born on August 25, 1947, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where his father, a career officer of the U.S. Foreign Service, was on assignment. As an FS kid, he had previously lived in Canada, France, Germany, Morocco, Senegal and Ghana.  He was nominated by the White House in July 2014, and was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 24, 2015. He assumed charge of Embassy Helsinki on August 3, 2015.

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Killer Air in China: Pollution Kills an Average of 4,000/day x 365 = 1,460,000

Posted: 4:18 am EDT
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Berkeley Earth released a study showing that air pollution kills an average of 4,000 people every day in China, 17% of all China’s deaths. For 38% of the population, the average air they breathe is “unhealthy” by U.S. standards. According to the study, the most harmful pollution is PM2.5, particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller.  This penetrates deeply into lungs and triggers heart attacks, stroke, lung cancer and asthma.

“Beijing is only a moderate source PM 2.5 ; it receives much of its pollution from distant industrial areas, particularly Shijiazhuang, 200 miles to the southwest,” says Robert Rohde, coauthor of the paper.

“Air pollution is the greatest environmental disaster in the world today,” says Richard Muller, Scientific Director of Berkeley Earth, coauthor of the paper. “When I was last in Beijing, pollution was at the hazardous level; every hour of exposure reduced my life expectancy by 20 minutes. It’s as if every man, women, and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour,” he said.

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Perhaps it’s time to revisit this Burn Bag submission?

“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?”

Embassy Beijing and the five consulates general in China house one of the largest U.S. diplomatic presences in the world (no presence in Kunming and Nanjing).  Service in China includes a hardship differential (when conditions of the environment differ substantially from environmental conditions in the continental United States) for poor air quality among other things, ranging between 10-25% of basic compensation.

According to the 2010 OIG report, more than 30 U.S. Government agencies maintain offices and personnel in China; the total staff exceeds 2,000 employees. Consulates General Guangzhou and Shanghai are as large as many mid-sized embassies, each with more than 250 employees. Consulates General Chengdu and Shenyang are smaller but serve the important western and northern parts of the country respectively. Consulate General Wuhan, opened in 2008, is staffed by one American. Mission China is a fully accompanied post; we have no numbers on how many family members, including children are present at these posts.

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Foreign Service Kids Grill Secretary Kerry During Take Your Child to Work Day

Posted: 12:40  pm EDT
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Secretary Kerry and his dog, Ben F. Kerry attended the Take Your Child to Work Day ceremony at the State Department today. Secretary Kerry said he wanted to  “take a moment to maybe answer any questions that some of you have, which is always very, very dangerous – (laughter) – and could put my entire job at risk.”   So the Foreign Service kids get to ask their parents’ boss a few questions during the Q&A:

  • When do you have time to relax?
  • What do you do as your job?
  • Why do you have to wear suits to work?
  • Is it fun being Secretary of State?
  • When did you get your dog?
  • Is this your first time being Secretary of State?
  • What is your favorite sport?
  • What inspired you to be the Secretary of State, and what age did you decide?
  • How tough was it to become what you are?
  • Do you like to do chores? 

You can add all these questions to an 11-year old’s who apparently asked Secretary Kerry, “Who are you and what do you do?” See video here. Click here for the transcript.
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Burn Bag: What’s ‘off the record’ about Assignment China?

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“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?

Hello AFSA …. EAP …. HR… Anyone? And the band played on …. ”